By Joe Garvey and Philip Walzer
Old Dominion University awarded nearly 2,600 undergraduate and graduate degrees on May 5 and 6 during its 138th commencement exercises, which included only the second outdoor graduating ceremony in 21 years.
Nearly 2,000 undergraduate students from the College of Arts and Letters, the Strome College of Business, the Darden College of Education and Professional Studies, the Batten College of Engineering and Technology, the College of Health Sciences, the College of Sciences, the School of Cybersecurity and the School of Nursing received their degrees on a sunny morning at Kornblau Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium on May 6.
It was the first commencement ceremony for an individual class held outdoors since May 2002, when graduates received their degrees at Foreman Field. Since then, all graduation ceremonies were held at the Ted Constant Convocation Center except for the spring of 2021. That May, ceremonies for the pandemic-impacted classes of 2020 and 2021 were held at S.B. Ballard Stadium.
Approximately 20,000 family members and guests attended Saturday’s ceremony, where Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin was the featured speaker.
Nearly 600 master’s, doctoral and education specialist graduates received degrees during the advanced degree ceremony on May 5 at Chartway Arena. Nina Brown, Ed.D., a professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Services who has been an ODU faculty member for 55 years, delivered remarks.
The Class of 2023 includes 746 distance-learning students (424 undergraduates, 322 graduate students) and 226 active-duty military and veterans (157 undergraduates, 69 graduate students).
President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., told the new graduates that “the value of an education goes so far beyond preparation for a career.”
“It is the role of an educated person to champion ideas of substance and reject loudly that which is artificial or self-serving,” he explained. “So, whether your career takes you into the newsroom, the hospital room or the board room, I hope you will take your Monarch values with you – service to others above all else and a commitment to justice for all members of our society.”
Governor Youngkin told the graduates they “are joining approximately 165,000 fellow Monarchs who are making the world a better place” and that the new ODU alumni each have “a unique and powerful story representing a rich, diverse life experiences.”
He spoke about three who illustrated how they can be the “authors of your own stories.”
Antra Patel moved to the United States from India with her family as a young child. When choosing colleges, many of her classmates left Hampton Roads, Youngkin said.
“But she felt something different,” Youngkin said, rejecting the notion “that you have to go somewhere to get somewhere.”
The governor noted that Patel, who graduated as a biomedical sciences major on a pre-med track, presented a research project at a national conference in San Antonio, Texas. She also served as a student representative on the Board of Visitors.
“Looking back, I started seeking opportunities relentlessly to delve into action,” Patel told the audience. “This allowed me to see myself diversify in many roles.”
Officer candidate Matthew Allen graduated with degrees in cybersecurity and military leadership. The father of two joined the military at 20 and served as an explosive ordnance disposal technician in the Navy for more than a decade.
“His roots are built on the foundation of service,” Youngkin said. "So, as you write your life story, I encourage all of you to include chapters of service over self because it will sustain you over time.”
Lastly, Youngkin cited former ODU student-athlete Taylor Heinicke, who was viewed by many as lacking the physical skills to succeed in pro football.
“It’s about grit,” the governor said. “He became the heart and soul of the Washington Commanders. He was ready to seize the moment.”
There’s an important message in these graduates’ stories, Youngkin said.
“No matter where you were born, no matter where you end up, as you come across challenges in the years and decades to come, know this: You have a strong foundation at ODU,” he said.
Advanced degree ceremony
Brown, the speaker at the Advanced Degree Ceremony, is also an Eminent Scholar at the University and a distinguished fellow of the American Group Psychotherapy Association. She has written or co-written nearly 40 books, including “Creative Activities for Group Therapy,” “Coping with Your Partner’s Jealousy,” “Children of the Self-Absorbed” and “Understanding Narcissists.”
Narcissism, she acknowledged, has a negative connotation. But Brown encouraged the graduates to develop a “healthy adult narcissism, characterized by empathy and appropriate humor.”
She added, “Look for beauty in the world, wonder, zest. Be altruistic. Practice kindness, gratitude and appreciation. Be aware of others in the world and appreciate them for who they are.”
That was one of Brown’s six “tips for success.” The others were:
- Embrace the “gift of education. What I would like you to do is to model it and pass it on, create new and novel things, discover new understandings.”
- Maintain a “work/life/self-care balance. If you balance your work and personal life, you will be much more productive, as well as happier. Attend to your relationships.”
- “Learn, grow and develop. Develop your learning quotient and your professional skills. Improve your relationships both at work and at home.”
- Recognize the “costs of winning. There are sacrifices and costs for you and others that are required for you to achieve success.”
- “Dream and learn from your failures. A lot of things can come out of adversity. So learn from it. Don’t let it beat you down.”
Brown concluded: “I want you to embrace your gift of education. I encourage you to be a hero. Heroes are people who give of themselves and make a difference.”
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