Louisburg College conferred more than 160 associate degrees May 12 to graduating sophomores, celebrating its largest Commencement in years, lauding students’ achievements and honoring the service of longtime, beloved faculty members.
Six students earned 4.0 grade point averages, graduating summa cum laude. Ten graduated magna cum laude, earning grade point averages of 3.8 to 3.99. Twenty-seven earned 3.5 to 3.79, graduating cum laude.
Four students graduated with Associate of Science degrees in Business. Eighteen earned Associate of Science degrees in General Science. Another About 140 received Associate of Arts degrees in General College. Many plan to continue at universities, including Appalachian State, North Carolina State, UNC, Stetson, and East Carolina.
Dr. Mark La Branche, the College’s outgoing president, introduced Commencement Speaker Jason Brown, a former center for the Baltimore Ravens and St. Louis Rams who left the NFL at age 29 and became a Franklin County farmer.
Brown told the graduates that he’d been fighting all his life. “I can count way more losses than victories,” he said. “But they made me into who I am today.”
He talked about his struggles with depression and focus after his brother died in 2003 when a mortar shell hit his battalion in Iraq. “What can I do to honor his legacy?” Brown said he asked himself. The short-term answer was to redouble his efforts on the football field, which led to lucrative contracts in the NFL. But when he became a free agent in 2012, he said he asked God what was next.
“I want you to be a farmer,” came the reply.
“Wow, God. Really?”
Neither Brown nor his wife, Tay, a dentist, knew anything about farming. They trusted God, left St. Louis and bought a 1,000-acre farm outside Louisburg. Brown said he watched YouTube videos to learn to grow sweet potatoes, cucumbers and other produce.
The result: First Fruits Farm, which gives away the first fruits of its harvest to local food pantries and churches to help feed the hungry. The couple have six children. They live a much simpler, but far more fulfilling, life. Brown said his fights now are for his faith and family: his wife and six children.
“Get ready to start fighting,” Brown told the audience. But “never stop giving. Never stop loving. Never stop growing.”
Kathryn O’Leary, a Franklinton resident graduating cum laude and with numerous honors and awards, gave the Student Address. She talked about the constant support and guidance students receive at Louisburg College, learning “values and lessons that will help guide us to success.” She plans to continue her studies at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, majoring in marketing and advertising.
Louisburg College recognized James Buster White, an assistant professor of psychology, as faculty emeritus on his retirement after more than 30 years of service.
At a staff and faculty lunch Monday, Art Professor Will Hinton relayed the dedication of his friend, a 1976 graduate of Louisburg College who served as its first director of Counseling Services and taught psychology for a time. After White was laid off due to budget cuts in the early 1990s, he earned his building contractor’s license. “He built buildings. He restored buildings. He moved houses onto new foundations. He bought land and cleared rental lots, which he owns and rents to this day,” Hinton said. “That is an unusual person, one who can talk with you about Pavlov’s operant conditioning and then lay a foundation with cinder block, brick and mortar.”
White, who returned to Louisburg College in 1998 as a full-time faculty member, is a man of quiet wisdom, Hinton said, a listening mentor whose presence will be missed.
Sheilah Cotten, a sociology professor and former softball coach who retired from teaching in December, was given the President’s Medallion, the highest form of recognition at Louisburg College.
A member of the National Junior College Athletic Association’s Softball Hall of Fame, East Carolina University’s Athletic Hall of Fame, as well as Louisburg College’s, Cotten was previously honored with the Excellence in Teaching Award and the Public Service Award.
English Professor and Humanities Chair Tommy Jenkins received the Naomi Dickens Shaw Award for Faculty Teaching Excellence.
Faculty and staff gave the Isaac Dean Moon Award for outstanding leadership, scholarship, and citizenship to graduating students Phoenix Spivey and Nehemiah Harris.
Dajah Denis won the Allen P. Brantley Award for the highest two-year scholastic average.