Vice President and Associate Provost for Inclusive Excellence Randy Williams delivered the commencement address, urging the new graduates to use their new "cardinal credential" to increase access to quality education.
Vice President and Associate Provost for Inclusive Excellence Randy Williams on Saturday urged the newest graduates of Elon’s Master of Education program and recipients of licensure certificates to use their new knowledge and skills to transform educational institutions and increase access to a quality education for children.
“My desire is that your training and your ‘cardinal’ credentials unleash transformation in children’s lives, making individuals and communities better,” Williams told the graduates gathered in Whitley Auditorium for the commencement ceremony.
The 13 graduate students received their degrees after successfully completing the three-year program while continuing to teach in the classroom. A majority of the program’s courses took place during three summers with the remaining coursework being completed online during the school year. The group of honorees also included eight teachers who completed the requirements for the North Carolina Academically and/or Intellectually Gifted Licensure program.
The NCATE-accredited Master of Education program gives experienced teachers the opportunity to broaden their professional knowledge and skills. The program offers challenging courses that give teachers the chance to explore, grow and actively engage in their love of teaching and learning.
Williams, who early in his career taught physics and geometry in high school, told the graduates that he was adding the word, “cardinal” to their credentials due to the ability their graduate degree has to open up new educational opportunities for countless children, noting that the Latin root of the word “cardinal” means “hinge.”
“Like that door that provides physical access, your credential increases your capacity to provide greater student access to education,” Williams told the graduates.
These teachers graduate during a time when education has been disrupted by the pandemic, with Williams observing that there have been other periods in this country’s history when the doors of schools have closed. He pointed back to landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka case that found segregated schools to be inherently unconstitutional. In the wake of that decision, the school system in Virginia’s Prince Edward County closed the doors of schools serving 1,700 black students for five years.
“I have been aware of this for decades, but every time I think about closing the doors to children for a period of five years, it stuns me,” said Williams, who spent part of his life in Prince Edward County. “The generational effects of that school closing can still be felt today over 60 years later.”
Williams said schools will be ready to embrace these new Elon graduates to create access to a quality education and remedy the developmental loss many children have sustained. “You master of education graduates are needed in those lives,” Williams said. “The intersection of your passion, your brilliance and your opportunity positions you to do exceptional work which in part hinges on your Elon training.”
Speaking on behalf of the class, Emma Boniche ’17 G’20 recounted her first visit to Elon’s campus more than a decade ago. It was on a college visit for older sister, who would go on to graduate from Elon in 2013. “On my first Elon visit in 2008, if you had told little eighth-grade Emma, that I would be a two-time Elon alumna, speaking at my graduate school graduation 12 years later, I never would have believed you,” Boniche said. “But here I am, and I could not be prouder of all I’ve accomplished today.”
Boniche noted how the education she and her classmates have received has gone beyond how to be better teachers to include how to be better leaders, communicators, teammates, role models and good people. That’s thanks to the Elon faculty and staff who supported them throughout this journey, she said. “You all have instilled in us a passion for teaching, helping others and being genuinely good people,” Boniche said.
Boniche details how the program and the joint experience impacted members of the entire class, sharing comments from them about how completing the program has changed them, equipped them with new knowledge and friends, and exposed them to new ideas they will all now take into the classroom in support of their students.
“As teachers, we do not just teach, we are there to be support systems for all of our students,” Boniche said. “I am sure we have all learned that teachers have the opportunity to be a positive influence in children’s lives, as well as give students the attention that they need.”
She noted that this year, she and her classmates have all shifted to online learning in their own classrooms while completing much of their graduate degree work remotely. “All the while, we missed seeing our students face-to-face,” Boniche said. “If we can get through distance learning and a pandemic while getting our master’s degree, I think we can get through anything.”
In her charge to the new graduates, President Connie Ledoux Book reminded them that preparing outstanding teachers has been a hallmark of Elon University since its founding more than 130 years ago. As teachers, Book said, they bring schools alive with their ideas, leadership and curiosity, Book said.
“Today we must acknowledge that you will be doing this important work in a world that is grappling with the impact of a pandemic,” Book said. “Never give up on the great task of building ladders of opportunity for others.”
Candidates for the Master of Education Degree
Emma Frances Boniche † *
A.B., Elon University
Hannah Elizabeth Caldwell †
B.A., Ohio University
Eliana Magnolia Cufiño Dueñas † *
B.A., Universidad Distrital Francisco Jose de Caldas
M.A., Universidad La Gran Colombia
McNair Miosha Dixon † *
B.S., North Carolina Agricultural and
Technical State University
Eugenia Marie Floyd
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Rui Guo † *
B.A., Chengdu University of Technology
Nekeisha Latoya Guscott-Douglas
B.A., The Mico University College
Viviana M. Guzman Camacho
B.A., Bosque University
Kristin Elaine Jackson *
B.S., Elizabeth City State University
Jasmine Danielle Johnson
B.S., Appalachian State University
Sarah Ashley McLaurin † *
B.A., Emmanuel College
B.A., Southwest University of Nationalities
Rachel Yvonne Yarbrough † *
B.S., Campbell University
† Phi Kappa Phi, nation’s oldest, largest and most selective collegiate international honor society for all academic disciplines
* Kappa Delta Pi, international honor society in education
Candidates for Academically/Intellectually Gifted Licensure Certificates
Nichole McLean Garren
Rebecca Joy Hines
Melanie Nicole Jones
Alefiea T. Parks
Melissa Ann Quimby