“Uniquely Built for This”: A&T Celebrates Fall 2023 Graduates

By Jackie Torok / 12/16/2023 Alumni, Students

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (Dec. 16, 2023) – Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year for 2023, authentic, is personified by North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University’s newest graduates who have persevered through myriad personal, societal and global challenges.

“While we are no longer in the midst of a pandemic, we’re still yet navigating our new normal,” said Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr. “Let me be clear: Your normal is and always has been about excellence, being the best you can be. I believe that for you. You are North Carolina A&T Aggies.”

About 1,100 students, including almost 300 graduate students, became members of A&T’s fall Class of 2023, who participated in commencement ceremonies Friday, Dec. 15, in the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts and Saturday, Dec. 16, in Greensboro Coliseum.

“We expect you to excel in your future endeavors. As we look to the future, we remain connected through our Aggie spirit, compelling us to always push forward, never to be satisfied with the status quo,” Martin told graduates. “Why? Because that’s what Aggies Do: always doing, never done.”

Saturday’s event included the awarding of an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters to Chancellor Emeritus Edward B. Fort, the university’s eighth chancellor who served from 1981 to 1999.

Bachelor’s degrees were conferred to ROTC Cadet Gabriel Jackson Jabari James, a senior studying industrial and systems engineering, and DeMarco Jauan Cathcart, a senior studying management, who died in separate traffic collisions before the fall 2023 semester.

Dena LaMar, who serves as executive vice president and chief operating officer for AAA Northeast, served as keynote speaker for the baccalaureate student ceremony. She graduated summa cum laude from A&T with a B.S. in marketing and completed the executive education training program at Carnegie Mellon Leadership Academy.

“Like all of you, I had a great and wonderful experience here at A&T. As my daughter Kennedy would say, I ate and left no crumbs,” said LaMar. “Because North Carolina A&T State University is a great and wonderful place to be – a place where you are noticed, nurtured, nourished by this omnipresent sense of care, community and connection.

“And now, your work here is done. It’s time to go,” she said. “And you are ready, because A&T has prepared you well. Here, you gained confidence, a clear sense of self and a world-class education from the largest and greatest HBCU (historically Black college or university) in the nation.”

A happy graduate at the Fall 2023 Graduate Commencement ceremony.LaMar, who has more than 20 years of sales, operations, retail, customer experience, strategy, financial service and banking experience, said no celebration is complete without gifts. She wanted to impart the gift of wisdom she gained from three professional mistakes she made after graduating from A&T.

“Once I learned these mistakes about human connections the hard way, my career finally took off in a big way,” she said. “So if you want to jumpstart your success starting today, No. 1, show up. Widen your circle. Build diverse relationships. No. 2, keep it real. Be who you are 100% of the time. Build authentic relationships. And No. 3, be fearless. Seek people out. Build strategic relationships.”

“As you sit on the edge of your seat, ready to get your diploma, ready to start living your best life, I urge you to look around. See the great gift that surrounds you: the gift of human connection. Notice it. Nurture it. Nourish it,” she said. “What you feel when you connect and build relationships transcends your work, your job, your career. What you feel when you connect and build relationships gives purpose, light and meaning to your life.”

Woodrow W. Winchester III, Ph.D., CPEM, executive director of the University of Texas at Austin Texas Engineering Executive Education (TxEEE), served as keynote speaker for the graduate student ceremony.

Winchester received his B.S. and M.S. in industrial engineering and Ph.D. in industrial and systems engineering from N.C. A&T, where Distinguished University Professor Celestine Ntuen, Ph.D., was his doctoral advisor. He also holds a professional certificate in Foresight from the College of Technology, University of Houston.

“Esteemed graduates, if nothing else this morning, I’m here to remind you that you matter. You are enough and as evidenced by your accomplishments today, you are built for this,” he said. “I challenge you to think the unthinkable, embrace discomfort, experimentation and failure, be kind and forgiving to yourself, dismantle and deconstruct conventions. Opportunities will open up for those who can leave preconceptions behind.”

Winchester said one of his proudest moments was seeing a student he mentored – who, like him, initially had not considered pursing graduate degrees – defend her Ph.D. in industrial engineering.

“While this was a full-circle moment for me, this in my opinion truly rings full circle for Aggieland, a testament to a commitment to service and to uplift that is tightly woven into the fabric of both A&T’s processes and products: you, us – the graduates,” he said. “The force is strong here in Aggieland. Let it be your guide … use this force. Allow it to enable you to cut through the noise to live with both clarity and purpose.”

Winchester said his road to becoming a triple A&T alumnus is a case study in learning to focus on what matters most – what he calls his “this.”

“Remember, graduates, that your – our – ‘this’ is shaped and molded by a rich history and legacy of social justice and service,” he said. “Aggies, not only is our ‘this’ uniquely built, we are uniquely built for this. Rise above the noise, Class of 2023.”

Media Contact Information: jtorok@ncat.edu

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