M.Ed. graduates praised as 'magic elixir' for young minds

Twenty-five candidates in Elon University's Master of Education program received degrees Saturday in a ceremony highlighted by a Commencement address that challenged teachers to unshackle their students' minds and inspire them to pursue their dreams.

PHOTO GALLERY: Master of Education Commencement Ceremony – August 15, 2015

Elon University leaders conferred degrees Saturday on more than two dozen graduate students in the Master of Education program whose Commencement speaker lauded them for their commitment to shaping the lives of children seeking inspiration as well as classroom instruction.

Allen E. Gant Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of Glen Raven Inc. and an influential voice in support of education in Alamance County, delivered his remarks to family and friends of the graduates who filled Whitley Auditorium. The address blended statistics with personal stories that demonstrated the power wielded by a dedicated teacher.

“Education is the elixir. It’s the thing that separates us from every other animal in the world – our ability to reason, our ability to think,” Gant said. “You have chosen to be that magic elixir.”

The best educators give children a sense of freedom to direct where they wish to go in life, he said, and life is like riding a bicycle. Lean too much in one direction and you fall to the right. Lean too much in the other direction and you tumble to the left.

Allen E. Gant Jr., chairman and CEO of Glen Raven Inc., delivered the Commencement address to M.Ed. candidates and their families who gathered in Whitley Auditorium.
It requires a balancing act to remain on life’s highway, Gant added. He lamented statistics in Alamance County, where 46 percent of the births last year were to single parents, and 40 percent of births were to people who did not have a high school education.

Thirty percent of children live in poverty, which affects the learning process through the challenges they often face at home. Teachers are paramount in helping to mitigate those obstacles to successful learning.

“The profession you have chosen is not just education, but it’s the magic of how you put body, mind and soul together,” he said. “You have to mend what happened yesterday at home and prepare that mind for today’s activities, and then teach that child how to ride a bicycle every day. And there is no more precious moment than to see that child make that first revolution. It’s amazing.”

Gant leads Glen Raven Inc., an international fabric manufacturing and marketing company founded by his grandfather and today headquartered just a few miles from Elon University. He has been a longtime supporter of the university and currently serves on its Board of Trustees.

But as School of Education interim dean Deborah Long noted in her speaker introduction, Gant has meant so much more to the community than simply serving as a business leader. He sits on the Board of Trustees of Alamance Regional Medical Center and Board of Directors of the Alamance County Economic Development Foundation, and he’s been a tireless advocate for education.

“We are fortunate to have a champion for education in Allen Gant,” Long said.

Gant attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has been honored with a degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Elon University. He has served as a member of President Bush’s Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations, as a member of the Board of Directors of the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, and as past chairman and board member of the National Council of Textile Organizations.

Gant’s message to graduates was in line with their motivations for pursuing a master’s degree. Prior to the ceremony, Suzanne Uliano, a 2011 graduate of Elon University with a degree in elementary and special education, said teachers should be lifelong learners committed to preparing students for the 21st century.

As society changes, she said, teachers need to know the most effective ways to meet student needs.

“Our profession is in dire need of leaders knowledgeable about curriculum, instruction, assessment, differentiation and meeting the cultural needs of students,” said Uliano, who begins a new job this fall teaching fourth grade at St. David’s School in Raleigh, North Carolina. “Graduate programs give you the knowledge to be a leader in this field. They push you out of your comfort zone, and you learn various perspectives.

“It can add to the growth and development of the professional once you have educators knowledgeable of best teaching practices.”

In his charge to graduates, Elon University President Leo M. Lambert described the work of teachers as the most noble and most important there is. Educators, he said, shape the minds, hearts and spirits of young people.

“Great teachers are magicians,” Lambert said. “You turn the unthinking into the thinking. You change conformity into creativity. You change dependence into self reliance. You turn prejudice into tolerance and respect. Your transform apathy into inspiration. Magic does indeed follow you wherever you go.

“I charge you to remind yourself every day of this idea: 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 added. “Class periods end. Marking periods end. School years end. But the influence of your work on other human beings will carry forward in wonderful and unimaginable ways.”

“Do not lose sight of this idea in your daily lives. Thank you for choosing to be teachers.”

Candidates for Elon University’s Master of Education:

Sylvia Lucille Bartow
B.A., Bennett College

LaToya Dawn Bigelow
B.S., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Laura Summers Black
B.S., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Teresa Colleen Burgess-Bhagat
B.Sc., McMaster University

Kimberly Claire Burleson
A.B., Elon University

Jessica Nicole Cheap
B.S., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Kalyn Rae Wyrick Cobb
A.B., Elon University

Jennifer Erin Cypra
B.S., The University of Vermont

Laura Fernanda Fonseca Diaz
B.A., Pontificia Universidad Javeriana

Danielle Malay Dorantes
B.A., High Point University

Jessica Dobyns Gray
A.B., Elon University

Teresa L. Harmon
B.S., Indiana University

Joan Lanette Stokes Love
B.S., North Carolina A&T State University

April Johnson McRae
B.S., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Kristin Elizabeth Barnes Ogden
B.S., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Tiffany Tarell Jenkins Phifer
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Keri Kay Odum Riley
B.A., High Point University

Stacey Stallings
B.A., North Carolina Central University

Candace Rae Taylor
B.A., North Carolina Central University

Hanna Elizabeth Townsend
B.S., Indiana Wesleyan University

Dirk Yancey Trimble
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Commencement speaker Allen E. Gant Jr., chairman & CEO of Glen Raven Inc. and an Elon University trustee, greets M.Ed. graduates outside of Whitley Auditorium following graduation ceremonies on Aug. 15, 2015.
Suzanne Ashley Uliano
A.B., Elon University

Robin Ray Weston
B.A., North Carolina State University

Heather Diana Whitley
B.S., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
A.B., Elon University

Katie Garner Wood
B.S., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro