GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - The newest class of East Carolina University Pirate alumni have turned their tassels and are entering the workforce as laborer shortages from the COVID pandemic increase their need.
Minges Coliseum is a place many of these graduates have been before to cheer on the pirates.
But Friday, the spotlight was on each of them as they are the first class to walk together to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance during a graduation ceremony in two years at ECU.
More than 1,800 graduates walked together for Friday’s fall commencement ceremonies.
“I love ECU. I love mathematics,” said Zanquavia Minor minutes after receiving her Master’s in mathematics education. “When COVID hit, it was a challenge but being able to finish my classes online just made everything easier. I did it!”
From undergraduates to doctorates, ECU’s Chancellor Phillip Rogers addressed the class of 2021.
One student has been seeking this diploma for almost 30 years.
“I graduated today-- 50 years old and I graduated today!” said Diana Cantrell.
With family support every step of the way, these graduates have pushed through learning online to hybrid to in-person.
They pushed through each change in the pursuit of their degrees.
“It’s been a struggle but we made it and I’m just so, so proud of her,” said Chrystal Allen, who as of today has put her third daughter through college.
Now on the other side of that struggle, her daughter, Kayla, said, “It really feels good. It makes me feel optimistic thinking about it. A year ago, it didn’t seem like this is possible.”
Reflecting on the way they learned and persevered was a reminder of how different their experiences have been from traditional graduates.
“It was really different seeing walking to and from class seeing campus completely empty,” said John Rice Vancoutran. “There was no one walking around, going to the dining halls, or just hanging out in the quad because of COVID restrictions.”
With guidance from their professors and advice from their elders, the class of 2021 was able to stay on track.
“Education is the key and I’m very proud of them and I hope this is the future that we have to go on,” said Wilbert Norfleet, whose nephew was seen in a purple cap and gown. “Don’t sell yourself short when it comes to an education.”
These Pirates are now ready for their next adventure.
“It feels great because I feel like I’m making a contribution,” said Cameron White. “I’ve decided that’s what I want to do.”
ECU required masks for all guests and graduates.
The commencement was split into two gathering times to reduce the volume of people inside the arena. That decision was based on the RSVP submissions from each graduate, as tickets were not required for guests to attend.
Both commencement events were live-streamed via ECU’s website for family unable or uncomfortable attending in-person.
The graduates didn’t walk the stage and get their diplomas by hand, but that is not a pandemic precaution. ECU says it is the most efficient way to honor so many students.
Eyes now turn to the Spring Class of 2022 commencement events. Soon-to-be graduates are still awaiting official word from ECU on those plans.