By Joe Garvey, Jonah Grinkewitz and Amber Kennedy

Old Dominion University held its 136th Commencement Exercises May 6 and 7 in Chartway Arena at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. Over the two days, nearly 3,000 students were awarded bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees during four ceremonies, each featuring its own speaker, including award-winning actress Angela Bassett.

At each ceremony, Provost Austin Agho recognized the 754 distance-learning graduates, earning 423 bachelor's degrees, 269 master's degrees and 62 doctoral degrees.

Bassett, who was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (honoris causa), told graduates of the College of Arts & Letters during the first ceremony on Friday afternoon that they have earned degrees from "an institution where young women and men have been nurtured and prepared to become strong and resilient leaders."

She urged graduates to embrace leadership, and the challenges it can bring.

"When I speak to graduates, I often compare the road to leadership and legacy to learning to walk in your own shoes, rather than trying to fill someone else's," Bassett said. "And I say this because when we buy a new pair, it takes some time for those shoes to feel like they're truly ours. By this, I want you to be comfortable with being uncomfortable as you enter into this new chapter. I want you to be mindful as you navigate life outside of ODU. I want you to be thoughtful with making decisions about these next steps on your journey."

She encouraged them to be unafraid about taking risks.

"As you go out into the world today as graduates, always remember this: The great poet Nikki Giovanni once said: 'I really don't think life is about the I-could-have-beens. Life is only about the I-tried-to-do. I don't mind the failure. But I can't imagine that I'd forgive myself if I didn't try.'"

She said she believes the graduates are "designed for greatness."

"Monarchs, you didn't come this far to come this far," she said. "You came this far to excel. You came this far to soar to heights that you, your parents, your grandparents, your ancestors sacrificed and prayed for you to reach."

"Oh, when the world tells you no, and they will, you'll remember that no is not a passport to failure but it's a gateway to infinite possibilities that you haven't considered or thought of yet. When the world says you're not good enough, remember that you have been nurtured for success within an academic university of a long line of alums who have contributed to changing the world. Carry this. Carry this with you every day as a reminder to endure, to work hard, to push forward and to claim your place at the table of purpose and prosperity. Even in the face of life's certain uncertainty and adversity."

Advanced Degree Ceremony

Sachin Shetty, executive director of the Center for Secure and Intelligent Critical Systems at ODU's Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center who conducts research that lies at the intersection of computer networking, network security and machine learning, told masters and Ph.D. graduates that he "stumbled upon this area by happenstance."

"I was initially interested in doing research on the Cloud," said Shetty, who earned his Ph.D. from ODU and has worked at the University for six years. "And during one of my experiments, I noticed that when I was accessing the photos that I had uploaded on the Cloud, they would move to a different location when I checked them the next day."

That led him on a path of finding ways to protect information and "empowering users with the knowledge they need to safeguard their information."

He relayed to the graduates three takeaways he gained from his experience: to be curious, in a constant learning mode and adaptive.

For example, he said he has worked on security and privacy problems across wide-ranging occupations, including attorneys, economists, sociologists, philosophers, psychologists and even dance instructors.

"They have helped me look at problems I saw from diverse perspectives and have also opened up new areas of exploration," he said. "These experiences have changed my perception of cybersecurity from a tech-centric problem to a human problem."

If you can keep this mindset, "Amazing things will happen. I have found that to be true in my career."

Shetty feels ODU is an excellent place to gain those problem-solving skills, especially considering how the University has evolved over the past two decades.

"I'm proud to have graduated from this University," he said. "Watching it grow since 2002, when I first stepped foot on this campus, has just grown the pride I have of being a Monarch immensely."

Strome College of Business and Darden College of Education and Professional Studies Undergraduate Ceremony

ODU President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., congratulated graduates of the Strome College of Business and Darden College of Education and Professional Studies.

"Please know that like everyone here today, I am immensely proud of you and know you are ready for the challenges ahead," he told the graduates.

"The great discoveries to be made will be made by you. The foundation for a better society begins with you."

"You are now graduates of one of the finest universities in the country," he said. "Your degree from Old Dominion will take you far — as far as you want to go."

Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology, the College of Health Sciences, College of Sciences and School of Cybersecurity Ceremony

Howard Kern, president and chief executive officer of Sentara Healthcare, shared his 42-year journey from "the absolute bottom rung as a management fellow" to the leader of the 134-year-old health care system serving Virginia and North Carolina.

"To achieve great things, you need to start with a vision or dream of what you want to achieve. You need aspirations that guide you on your path," Kern said. "I set my goals high. I wasn't really sure if I could achieve this, but if I had set my sights lower, I would not have worked to attain what I have achieved."

He offered some advice to graduates to improve their odds of success: be clear about personal values and ethics; demonstrate leadership grounded in those values; commit to hard work; and be willing to take risks.

"By risking, I am not suggesting big gambles or bets or big losses. I am suggesting that you be bold," Kern said.

Kern, who received a Doctor of Humane Letters (honoris causa) degree during the ceremony, finished by encouraging graduates to commit to continuous learning.

"As Mark Twain once said, 'I never let schooling interfere with my education.' Make your education and learning a lifelong experience."

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