Former N.C. governor to teachers: 'Our state appreciates you'

Jim Hunt, a nationally recognized leader in promoting public education, instructed new graduates from Elon's Master of Education program to be forceful voices in advocating for their schools and students.

Former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt greets candidates for Elon University's Master of Education degree prior to their Aug. 17 Commencement ceremony in Whitley Auditorium.
PHOTO GALLERY: M.Ed. Commencement for the Class of 2013

Elon University leaders conferred degrees Saturday morning on students in the Master of Education program whose Commencement speaker praised their dedication to teaching while offering hope for the future of education in North Carolina and beyond.

Former North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. showered gratitude on the professional educators seated before him in Whitley Auditorium. He also praised the university for its focus on preparing great teachers, giving a special nod to Elon University President Leo M. Lambert.

Hunt’s remarks on Aug. 17, 2013, to the 23 graduates and their families came weeks after lawmakers passed a state budget and other legislation that many observers have criticized as unfriendly to public school employees.

“I want you to know that the people of our state appreciate you. Not just your family and friends, but the people of this state. You as teachers are our heroes. I really mean that, and the people mean it, whether or not they say it often,” Hunt said. “Some people in Raleigh may not appreciate and respect you as much as they should, but most of us do. You can read the letters to the editor of the papers and the op/eds and you’ll know that.”

"We appreciate your constant work to learn more, to be better, to collaborate with your colleagues and your families and communities in which you teach." – former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt in his Aug. 17 Commencement address to graduates of Elon University's Master of Education program
At the same time, Hunt called on the master’s candidates to raise the standards of what all students should learn. In the era of globalization, he said, it’s important for American students to exceed their counterparts elsewhere on the planet. There are few other avenues to convince CEOs of international firms to create jobs in the United States.

Hunt also said that teachers who seek advanced degrees deserve to be compensated for their commitment. State lawmakers will soon understand that and he predicts supplemental pay will eventually be restored to teachers who earn their master’s degrees in the state.

“We appreciate your constant work to learn more, to be better, to collaborate with your colleagues and your families and communities in which you teach,” he said. “We the people know that a good graduate education makes you better teachers. We have solid statistical evidence of that in North Carolina.”

Teacher evaluations are also important, he added. Problems arise when educators aren’t a part of the debate on the best way to measure performance. And the classroom adoption of new technology is crucial to the lifetime success of children who are already using iPhones, tablets and other devices to learn in new ways.

Jennifer Cassidy gave the student address at the Class of 2013 Commencement ceremony for Elon's Master of Education program.
“Don’t you fail to speak up – in your school, in teacher meetings, in the community, talking to leaders, the school board, the superintendent – about what needs to be done,” Hunt said. “It’s important that we advocate for technology and the funding for it that we need in our schools and that students need in their homes, especially in homes of poor students who don’t always have it.”

Hunt, a founding member of the Elon University School of Law Advisory Board, was introduced by School of Education interim dean Deborah Long.

The former governor is today a partner emeritus with the law firm of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, PLLC. He served four terms as North Carolina’s top leader, from 1977-1985 and again from 1993-2001. The Smart Start program he introduced has been a model for the nation and has received the prestigious Innovations in American Government Award from the Ford Foundation and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

"Magic follows you wherever you go," Elon University President Leo M. Lambert said in his charge to graduates.
Under his leadership, North Carolina increased NAEP scores more than any other state in America. He and the Carnegie Corporation of New York created the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which he chaired for 10 years. North Carolina consistently ranked at the top of the nation in economic growth, job creation and capital investment during his tenure, and the state  was nationally recognized for its business climate

He established the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, the Microelectronics Center of North Carolina, and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. In 2006, Hunt was named one of the 10 most influential people in American education, along with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton.

Hunt is chairman of the Board of Directors of two institutes which he founded in the University of North Carolina – the Hunt Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy in Chapel Hill and the Institute for Emerging Issues at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

“I am confident that we will renew our commitment to education as the key to our future,” Hunt concluded. “I urge you, blessed with this wonderful educational experience at Elon, to make North Carolina and this great country of America all that it can be, all that it should be, all that it must be.”

The Commencement program featured additional remarks from Jennifer Cassidy, who offered the student address, and Lambert, who closed the ceremony with a charge to graduates.

Cassidy recounted a recent TED talk in which a story was shared about a farmer that developed an award-winning corn seed but refused to share his secret to help others prosper. Over time, the farmer noticed a decline in his corn, failing to realize that pollen from neighboring fields had cross pollinated with his own crops.

“I thought this was a fitting story to reference as a reminder to share your special talents with others,” Cassidy said. “Do not keep the knowledge and ideas you have gained at Elon as a secret, but rather I encourage you to advise others about your experiences and strategies, so together we can help all of our students grow to have the best qualities and opportunities regardless of the school or classroom they are attending.”

She also implored her classmates to never accept the status quo. Instead, be advocates for change while keeping the needs of teachers in mind.

In his charge, Lambert likened the graduates to magicians.

“You change the unthinking into the thinking. You change conformity into creativity. You change dependence into self-reliance. You turn prejudice into tolerance and respect. You transform apathy into inspiration,” he said. “Magic follows you wherever you go.”

Lambert asked that graduates remind themselves every day of one notion. “The results of your life’s labors in education will continue to have influence decades from now and will echo into the generations ahead,” he said. “Thank you for choosing to be teachers.”

The morning Commencement program was followed by a separate ceremony in which nine of the new graduates were honored for completing requirements for the state’s “academically or intellectually gifted” teacher licensure. Of the nine, two students will continue at Elon University to earn a separate master’s degree in Gifted Education.

Candidates for Elon University’s Master of Education:

Twenty-three master's candidates received their degrees from Elon University on Aug. 17, 2013. Professor Deborah Long, interim dean of the School of Education, hooded each candidate in the Whitley Auditorium ceremony.
Norah Abduallah Abdulaziz Alkhunaini
B.A., Princess Nora Bint Abdul Rahman University

Jennifer Ollia Popal Cassidy
B.S., North Carolina State University

Desmond Denard Coble
B.S., Greensboro College

Michelle Conn
B.Sc., Magdalen College

Wendelin Dawn Senter Copelan
B. S., The University of North Carolina Greensboro

Angela Dawn Robertson Dalton
A.B., Elon University

Wendy Marie Dean
B.S., University of Akron

Lisa Marie Freidel
B.S., Millersville University

Andrew Roger Garland
A.B., Elon University

Aimee Rae Long Gerringer
B.A., Barton College

Danielle Stevens Hogan (Williams)
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Cara Ann Maschi
A.B., Elon University

Heather Jo Markward
B.A., Heidelberg University

Penny Lee Martin
B.A., High Point University

Steady rains didn't dampen the spirit of graduates on a day when family, friends and faculty celebrated two years of work and sacrifice in the pursuit of a master's degree.
Jennifer Omran McClinton
B.A., High Point University

Beth Ann Lowry Mills
B.A., Greensboro College

Emily Nimmo Myers
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Shakara Denise Morrison Shuford
B.A., Wofford College

John Carl Osborne
B.S., Columbia International University

Melissa Dawn Carroll Ray
B.S., Southern Wesleyan University

Heather Ann Rose
BFA, The Boston Conservatory

Rebecca Newmark Wells
A.B., Elon University

Karen Elizabeth May Wyatt
B.S., Appalachian State University