Graduation Speeches 2020 & 2021

Each year the President and Senior Staff select graduating students to serve as speakers for the Senior Banquet and Commencement Ceremony. To celebrate these students, we are sharing their speeches. 

Grace Arredondo - 2021

Happy graduation day distinguished alumni, guests, family and friends, Chowan University faculty, staff, and the extraordinary class of 2021! My name is Grace Arredondo and I am honored to stand before you today as a graduation commencement speaker. I have so many to thank in this sea of smiling faces, but I’ll allot this precious moment to thank my mom, dad, and younger brother, for I can surely say, I would not be the woman I am today without their love and support.  

Fellow graduates, today is a defining milestone in our lives. And I felt a lot of pressure while writing this speech to share something uniquely profound but wholeheartedly relatable. It is no secret or debate that we have proven ourselves to be one of the most resilient classes in Chowan history. We have all fought battles, both known and unknown by those around us. And I am here today to say that despite your struggles, you have made it to this moment. So find strength in having overcome these obstacles. Although they may have caused pain and hardship, they did not keep you from accomplishing this important dream. 

I am addressing all of you today, hoping to be a source of inspiration. That as I remark on points in my life where I have overcome feeling inferior and suffered life’s tribulations, you will identify in your own personal way with my struggles and journey to this stage. 

I was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina to hardly a middle class family, living in the same house since I was three years old. As a child, my parents were devoted to making sure my brother and I never had to carry the burden of knowing our financial state. They did without basic needs so he and I could attend a private Christian school from kindergarten to graduation. 

I have also had to overcome my fair share of bullies, specifically those who targeted me as a biracial woman. In elementary school, I remember being so eager to do school projects on my Mexican heritage. I’d make my abuelita’s secret salsa and pass around the classroom the few remaining photos of my paternal family living in Valle Hermoso. I would stand tall and share my father’s story of immigrating to the United States from Mexico with his family as a child. See, since my dad could be employed at fifteen years old in the trenches of the Chigaco workforce, he has never stopped working to provide for his family. But I found myself acknowledging this beautiful narrative less and less when the snobbish, rich kids asked me to come mow their lawns on a weekly basis or when I learned that the new nickname I’d acquired was actually a particularly hateful, hispanic racial slur. Although the mistreatment I’ve endured is nothing compared to my father’s, I know the struggle of overcoming what it feels like to be lesser than others based on a lineage that I am now openly proud to identify with.  

Along with these struggles, I have had to contend with being diagnosed with ADHD and accompanying OCD tendencies, as well as spending several years bitter with the grief and anger of my sweet grandfather’s murder in an assisted living facility. And like each one of you, I have fought to overcome crippling insecurities, devastating heartbreaks, and moments where I considered letting the dreams fade away. Even during my college career, I have had to push through trials that threatened to keep me from succeeding. However, I have remained resolved to not be a victim of these difficulties. As I stand here today, I can wholeheartedly say I am thankful that the road was not easy because this moment would not have been so sweet. 

Although right now has amounted to more than merely four years in the making, they are defining markers of the progress we’ve made to be here today. Freshman year, we had to find our place. Sophomore year, we made a plan. Junior year, we carried on, with the end in sight. And senior year, we managed to finish strong, all along the way, finding our purpose. 

We have made it in spite of the most stressful, and in some ways, crushing year we could have anticipated. Senior year is a celebration of lasts, preparing for a new set of firsts. For three years we’ve put in the work, looking forward to our turn to be recognized, our time to shine. So maybe it’s not the celebration we imagined, or the senior year we anticipated, it is still our time. Our opportunity to embrace adversity and let the fire do it’s refining. In a period where we competed for empty bleachers and attended virtual events, remember our class. That we were the ones who achieved beyond the fulfilling glory. We did this for us. Our future. And that was enough. 

Although it may feel hollow for those who have gone before us, having achieved the goals we still dream of, to tell us to carry on despite Covid-19’s limitations, know that every generation has shared in a struggle of their own. Hurdles come in many forms. Covid-19 is ours. But we have endured, we have overcome and we are better for it. So I urge you today, don’t look at this year for its lost opportunities. We are entering into a new chapter of our lives with a wiser understanding of how to cherish the most simplest pleasures. Hugs, gatherings, celebrations, smiles, and normalcy. The way we have responded, reacted, endured, and risen above says everything about who we are.

So today, as we have reminisced on a year, or perhaps a lifetime, of triumphs forged through setbacks, be encouraged that we were born for such a time as this. To be the fresh emerging leaders, bursting onto the scene of a weary world that so desperately requires our light, energy, ingenuity, resilience, and our vision. And as fulfilling as today may seem, senior year is not the end. Graduation is not the ultimate goal. We are to take everything this school and life and the world have taught us and go forth. This is our launching pad. Now take flight!

Thank you, and congratulations!


Grace Arredondo is an English major. She served as student Editor-in-Chief of The Brown Lady magazine and president of the HonorsCollegeStudent Association and the Rotaract Club. A HarrisScholar, Presidential Ambassador, and member of the swim team, she holds memberships in Alpha Lambda Delta, AlphaChi, Pi Gamma Mu, Chi AlphaSigma, and SigmaTau Delta. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Outstanding Student Award, Ethics in Action Award, Outstanding English Major Award, Faith in Your FutureAward, and Best All-Around Student Award.

Alajah Gray - 2021

Good morning family, friends, faculty, staff, and class of 2021! First off I want to thank God because without him I wouldn't even be standing here. To my parents, siblings, and fiance I love love love y'all thanks for sticking with me through everything. Class of 2021!!! we graduated through a global pandemic, when all odds were against us, we still did it. We are strong as a unit! But Every student here at Chowan has their own personal journey which I can bet  is nothing short of exceptional. Here’s mine, If I take a look back on my freshman year experience what I remember is my first night going to the cafe for dinner alone. I felt sad about that but little did I know in the next few hours that was about to change, and it changed for the rest of my time here at Chowan. I met my group of lifelong friends at the annual magic show in the Collums building. Jacarrie, Jakyra, Chasity, and Myria thank you for making my Chowan experience one that I will always remember and keep close to my heart. If I go into detail about the things we did you’d hear about a lot of group walks, mandatory meet ups for fried chicken Tuesdays, and a lot of comedy sessions in the library.. which was one of the only places on campus that we were supposed to be quiet. The library became another home for me. And if you knew me you knew that. I was all about obtaining my coin and did it in every way that my financial aid allowed me to, for example I worked as a peer tutor, library assistant, and Resident assistant. You can guess I had a busy schedule especially  with academics, extracurricular activities, and club leadership, but that just wasn’t enough for me Yall know We Chowan students love to stay busy. I wanted to stay so busy that in my final semester here at Chowan I decided to join one of the best sports teams on camps Acrobatics and tumbling. And I don’t regret it all. To my Acro sisters and coach I love you all dearly. But Was that enough? No ... Being the VP of the SGA was one of my best experiences here. Mainly because we did something that had never been done on this campus we painted the campus black for the first time ever... We did this for individuals like Breyonna Taylor, Trayvon martin, and George Floyd. In this little town of Murfreesboro we shined light on an issue, caused some controversy, and got the job done. These are things that I ask all of you to do in this world ... your voice is big and holds a monumental weight. When an issue is brought to you, handle it no matter whose feelings get hurt. Be the change in this world that we need. I don't want you all to ever think that I obtained every position I ever applied for… I got some rejections too, for example… April 17th 2018, i was in my second semester of freshman year and determined to be more active on campus. So I decided to apply for a peer mentor position, I was so excited, I had received the email that all the logistics of my application went through and the next step was an interview. I really didn’t stress about it because I was a great student and they knew that  but I thought that was all it took. So I went into this interview and I completely bombed it. I could tell it from my interviewers faces that I just messed up. And I ended up not getting the position. But that was okay because from that day forward I realized that it’s not just about your recommenders, or what’s on a piece of paper. It’s about your ability to persevere and show what you can do under pressure. Life is going to be hard, it’s going to teach you lessons, but you have to use those lessons and rise up against every failure. life will hit you hard and when it does I want you all to think back to your time here at Chowan and understand that just how you got through every obstacle here you can do the same in the real world. Remember all of the greatest people on this earth started out as regular people like you and me.. don’t just settle for average, Because being average can achieve greatness. Today we have accomplished a major milestone in our lives, so I wish you all more accomplishments, more degrees, and more success.



Alajah Gray is a history major. She is the Vice President of the Student Government Association, a member of the HonorsCollege and Honors CollegeStudent Association, and served as president of the History Club. She also is a member of several honor societies, including Alpha LambdaDelta, AlphaChi, Phi AlphaTheta, and Pi Gamma Mu, where she received the Pi Gamma Mu History Award. Other campus roles include Presidential Ambassador, member of the acrobatics and tumbling team, and member of the Department of History'sAcademic Bowl championship team.

Jaliyah Sinkler - 2021


It is with great pleasure to speak with you all tonight before we cross the stage and begin our lives as a Chowan graduate. First, I want to thank God who is the head of my life, because without him this journey would not have been possible. Also, I want to thank my family, friends and professors for being by my side through my four years being here. Yall, this has been a long and fun journey but we made it and it’s time to go. Those four short years went by so quick, we were just little ol freshmans that didn’t know what was going on. While arriving in Murfreesboro our minds had already made up that this was not it at all because we were in the middle of nowhere. Like nothing to do at all. In my head I was trying to process that we really don’t have Chick-fil-a, Olive Garden, Panera Bread, and Cookout. My mother goes, yall have Roanoke Rapids which would take about 30 mins just to drive. I responded “Just for food? No ma’am.”. We learned and mastered to create some amazing memories that will stay with us for a lifetime. We all had some good times and bad times but thank God for keeping us in perfect peace.We could’ve given up a long time ago, but we persevere and push through the times we thought we couldn’t go on.

 Walking on campus for the first few months was a nerve wreck because so many people were on campus, especially in the cafeteria. I remember there were barely any seats left, literally.

 During my time here, I was able to hold leadership positions and be involved in different clubs & organizations such as Woman Unveiled, Rotaract, SGA Senator of Academics, Residence Assistance, Ministry Chaplain, Peer Mentor etc. I was able to accomplish many things and learn valuable lessons in the journey that taught me so much to take with me in the real world. It was a pleasure to come across so many beautiful people that warms my heart. To everyone who crossed my path, thank you. I really appreciate all of you. You all hold dear to my heart.

Graduation is not an end goal in life itself. Wherever your future holds and take you, enjoy every bit of it. Life is a journey, and all the accomplishments we achieve during the course, we should take it as a starting point for future achievements.( If there is one thing to take away from this it is to) NEVER EVER give up. It was a purpose for you to start on whatever you started on. You’re capable of accomplishing anything, look at you getting ready to walk across the stage. So I say to you, take pride in how far you have come and have faith in how far you will go. Congratulations seniors!

JALIYAH NIGERIA SINKLER, a criminal justice major, Student Government Association Senator of Academic Life, and Chowan Christian Service Scholar, is the recipient of the Estelle Thigpen Superior Citizenship Award. A Peer Mentor and Ministry Chaplain, she is also VicePresident of the Chowan FellowsAssociation and a member of the Order of the Silver Feather.

Ryan Martin - 2021

First, I want to congratulate the seniors here today. It has been four years of new beginnings, new adventures, new memories, and new friendships that will last a lifetime. We have seen our fair share of hardships, especially the last year of learning a whole new “normal” due to COVID-19. Our final year at Chowan may not have been what we expected, but we adapted to the restrictions and overcame the challenge of being a senior during a pandemic. For every single one of you who walk across this stage today, enjoy the moment. Because on this day, you all have earned this, something that no matter what happens to you, nobody can ever take this accomplishment away from you! I’d like to share my Chowan journey with you today because it is the story of how my second chances became incredible firsts.

On the first day of freshman year, each class began with everyone going around the room introducing themselves and explaining why they chose to come to Chowan. I can say more than 90 percent of my classmates, including myself, all gave the same reason why they chose to come here. We all said, “Chowan was a second chance.” No matter what the second part of their reason was, the beginning was always the same. For example, freshman year I said, “Chowan was a second chance for me to prove to myself that I can do the work and succeed on and off the soccer field.” Before I attended Chowan University, I graduated high school with a 2.2 GPA and had no direction on what my next chapter of my life would entail. I was decent at soccer and that was about it. One day I received an email from Chowan inviting me to an ID camp. At first, I did not know what to think, then when I reread the email, I didn’t know how to even pronounce the school’s name. I ended up attending the camp and felt at home the very second I stepped onto campus. I would say that I played fairly well in the camp because after it was over, Coach Whalley pulled me into his office and asked me one question “Are you serious about playing college soccer?” I was in shock and said, “Yes, sir”. When I told my mom about everything I said, “This is my second chance. I have a lot to prove.”

After my first few months, I had met some great people, played against the best soccer players I have ever faced, and unknown to both of us, I had met my future wife. But nothing will beat the look on my parent’s face when I brought home my first semester grades and showed them that I had achieved a 4.0 GPA. After struggling so much through high school, this achievement allowed me to prove to them, and to myself, that I can succeed and do great things.

During the rest of my time here at Chowan, I have made memories that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Friendships that have impacted my life for the better, lessons that I have learned on and off the field, and connections made with people that have refined my worldview. Over the years, my family and I have named our house the “International Inn”. This started when Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina in 2018. I called my parents letting them know that we were advised to evacuate the school and asked if I could bring a teammate or two back home. Well, I ended up bringing eight teammates and three other friends. I explained to my parents that since these were international students, they couldn’t travel home. Thankfully, my parents generously welcomed each and every person into their home with open arms. We had a total of six different countries and three different states all under one roof that were barely acquaintances before entering. Although the house was a little chaotic and my mom was stressed out trying to feed so many college students, my parents and I will never forget the people and the stories that were shared with us during that time. Thankfully, my parents continued to open their home up over the last few years to any of my teammates and friends who may have needed a taste of home but were too far away to get it. 

Although I consider Chowan as my opportunity for second chances, it held many firsts for me as well. I was exposed to a new environment with unique people creating memories and experiences that will last a lifetime. I had never been on a plane before I went on the study abroad trip, and let me tell you, the service in the sky was way better than the Murfreesboro McDonalds. I was also baptized for the first time in the Jordan River by Dr. Brabben while on our trip to the Holy Land in 2019. So as you leave here today, be grateful for all of the second chances you received and the memorable firsts you experienced that lead you to walking this stage. Cherish every moment you spent here, both the good and the bad, because they have made you into the empowered person who sits here today. Use what you have experienced, your Chowan University story, to help you walk the path ahead into your next chapter of life. Congratulations, Class of 2021! 


Ryan Martin is a business administration major. During his tenure at Chowan, he has played for the soccer team and earned membership in Phi AlphaTheta, Alpha Lambda Delta, Pi Gamma Mu, and Alpha Chi. He served as President of Pi Gamma Mu and Alpha Chi and as Vice President of Phi Beta Lambda. A HarrisScholar, Commencement Marshal, and Presidential Ambassador, his research has been presented at conferences and published in The Brown Lady magazine. He is the recipient of the Pi Gamma Mu Academic Award and the Chowan University Student Research Conference Best History Paper Prize.

Beth Walker - 2021

Good Morning Faculty, Staff, Parents, and Class of 2021. 

I want to first thank my family for providing me with endless support, love and encouragement. I wouldn't be standing here today if it weren’t for them. I would also like to thank my friends, for pushing me to be my best and helping expand who I am. To Dr. Moore, Dr. Yoon, Mrs. Nancy, Jay Howell, Mrs. Syble, and the Athletic Training Staff thank you for being my mentors and a sure laugh or shoulder to cry on. Lastly, I would like to thank Mrs. Patty, Otho, Sophia, Dakota, and Memphis, you gave me a home away from home and I will forever be thankful. 

But all thanks aside, today is about the class of 2021 and the outstanding accomplishments we have achieved both individually and as a whole. From awards on the field and in the classroom to acceptances into internships and graduate programs, we tirelessly fought to better ourselves each day. Overcoming national distress, COVID, and societal expectations we rose to each challenge and persevered. 

But today I want to discuss more than achievements awarded and obstacles overcome, I want to highlight the love our class shares. My fellow graduates share a love that acknowledges humanity, focuses on potential, and shows a deep interest in others. Our love was exemplified through empathy, guidance, and praise. We loved not solely in words, but through always offering a helping hand and displaying selflessness. Some may say they loved Chowan for the family atmosphere, small class sizes, or even Dr. Moore because we all know he is the go-to for anything. Others may pinpoint squirrel park, Mrs. Mary's hello with an excitement to remember your name that always made you smile, Randy Harrell’s “CU” “Hawks'' chant and - I have to call out- the 2018 softball teams conference championship win, that experience is one I will never forget.  Graduates, whether you share one of these loves for Chowan or others come to mind, continue to build a love that values others and respects yourself. 

As I reflected on why I love Chowan, a commonality manifested: Chowan fosters one hundred percent authenticity one hundred percent of the time. Chowan is a place that gathers those from all backgrounds, a place that embraces individuality and accepts the not so ordinary. Watching classmates excel on the field, in the classroom, clubs, sororities, fraternities, art exhibits, music concerts and so much more- there was always a place for everyone. 

Having attended the oldest all girls Catholic High School set in the heart of Baltimore City I had been introduced to many cultures and diversity- it was our joy and pride. Coming to Chowan- I was ready to continue learning from and surrounding myself with those who brought unique experiences. From Rotaract coming together to support those affected in the Bahamas by Hurricane Dorian, to International night in the cafeteria, and the Honors College Black Lives Matter awareness activity we consistently embraced and highlighted the cultures and differences that made us the class of 2021. Chowan is a place to be completely you and share it with others.  

So, as I continued to reflect- keeping in mind the theme of love, I realized that I didn't love one specific thing about Chowan but a million little ones. Chowan and my classmates loved and gave me their all on days I needed it most. They built me up and surrounded me with more love than imaginable. My classmates taught me that it is beautiful to stand out in a world that is constantly pushing you to fit in. Chowan surrounded me with strong individuals who fight to overcome injustices and take stance on their beliefs. As we prepare to enter the next stages of our lives, I urge the class of 2021 to never forget what you learned and the life journey you’ve taken to arrive here. Remember the good times and learn from the bad. Embrace who you are and gather with those that lift you up- the same way Chowan and my fellow graduates did for me. 

Today I leave you with a quote from Auggie in the movie Wonder “Then again, maybe that’s kind of the point. Maybe the truth is, I’m really not so ordinary. Maybe if we knew what other people were thinking we’d know that no one’s ordinary, and we all deserve a standing ovation at least once in our lives. My friends do. My teachers do. My sister does for always being there for me. My dad does for always making us laugh. And my mom does the most, for never giving up, on anything. Especially me. It’s like that last precept Mr. Browne gave us. Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle. And if you really want to see what people are, all you have to do is look.” So, class of 2021, please stand, because today, you did it, and you deserve your own standing ovation! 



Elizabeth Walker is an exercise science major. A member of the Order of the Silver Feather, she is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Outstanding Student Award, Joseph LeeParker Scholarship, Honors CollegeStudent in ServiceAward, HonorsCollegeScholar Award, and Commencement Marshal. A Presidential Ambassador, President of the Honors CollegeStudent Association, and VicePresident of the Rotaract Club, she served as a member of AlphaLambda Delta, AlphaChi, Phi Epsilon Kappa, BetaBetaBeta, and the softball team.

Elizabeth Stokes - 2021

Life as A Student-Athlete

Thank you for inviting me to speak on the behalf of athletic and academic life.

To begin, my name is Elizabeth Stokes and like many of you, I am a student and an athlete. I am a four-year member of the Women’s Cross-Country team, a three-year member of the CU Sapphires Cheerleading team and a two-year member of the growing Acrobatics and Tumbling team. Most of my life has revolved around being a student and dual athlete, this is who I was created to be.

I come from a very large family having thirteen siblings and somehow I managed to be a first-generation high school graduate and athlete, as well as a soon to be first-generation college graduate and student-athlete. This is a huge accomplishment and just because I am set to graduate on May 9th, 2021 does not mean I am finished just yet.  

While attending Chowan University it has been an honor to experience the world behind athletic and academic life. We all know that the college life is tough, but what is even tougher is being in college and taking on the role of a student-athlete. We are devoted to our education and respective sport at a full-time status, that is our job and what we have been built to do.

Many of us began this collegiate journey knowing exactly what we wanted to do with our lives and some of us began not having an honest clue. That is okay though right? We are all still in the process of trying to figure out who WE want to be.  

I am sure that I can speak for everyone when I say that the beginning of every semester starts off like a cool breeze, then suddenly you blink and we have had three classes build up on each other, a midterm and three 5–10-page papers due all in the same week. To say that we have been overwhelmed would be a huge understatement.

It is important for us as student-athletes to learn how to handle our time effectively. Depending on how much time is devoted to our respective jobs, studying, homework and sport each day, our days can start as early as 5:00 a.m. and end as late as 1:00 a.m., or in my case sometimes a full 24 hours later.

It is a never-ending challenge to juggle classes, rehab treatment, and practice while still finding time to eat, study and sleep. I believe that it is fair to assume that many of us would not have it any other way, given that this is what we have done for a large portion of our lives. We have done great keeping our poker-faces haven’t we? This meaning that from a young age, we have learned to keep our feelings and struggles to ourselves rather than sharing what is affecting us.

Personally, I have always had the “I can handle it myself” mentality and have leaned towards being as independent as possible. However, it is OKAY to ask for help and to vent about everything on your mind, sometimes it gets to be too much and that is what our mentors, professors and coaches are here for.

Chowan students and athletes have an extraordinary amount of support from our respective mentors, tutors, athletic-trainers, professors, and coaches. Since there are so many services and supports available, failing as a student or student-athlete is nearly impossible. Those individuals are here to assist us and are experts in guaranteeing that we receive proper instruction to ensure our future success.

Our support staff plays a vital role in our academic and athletic performance here at Chowan. Due to family commitments or game travel, we may miss classes or major exams, however, our coaches and professors have been helpful and accommodating in every situation. As we move forward in our lives, it is important that we continue to communicate with our support staff to enhance our professional relationships and networks. So, thank you to those who have been mindful of all our hectic schedules and are willing to put in the extra hours to ensure our success, even if we only attend half of the class meetings in a single semester or miss a practice due to class or hours’ worth of lab work for all of you Biology majors out there.

We have all come such a long way both scholastically and athletically. This is still just a small part of the pleasure we have brought to the Chowan community. We continue to respect ourselves as students’ and athletes' because we perform at remarkable feats of speed, stamina, intellect, and grace all while upholding a busy academic schedule. We teach, inspire, collaborate, and connect with one another, which is why so many of our educational and athletic programs have been successful.

The last four years has flown by and I hope that you all were able to cherish the memories, friendships and relationships that you have built as we are entering our last few day as a CU Hawk. My hopes for all of us as we move forward is that we will keep our connections with our teammates, peers, and the Chowan community solid. In hopes that you can use what you have learned here from both our professors and coaches, as well as from each other, to continue to enhance the world around us.

ELIZABETH MARIE STOKES, an elementary education major and member of the Cross Country and Acrobatics and Tumbling teams, is the recipient of the Outstanding Student Award and the Chowan University Student Research Conference Best Education Paper Prize. She is a member of the Student AthleteAdvisory Committee, Rotaract Club, Kappa DeltaPi, AlphaChi, and Chi AlphaSigma.

Blaire Dillard - 2021

Hi, I am Blaire Dillard and I will be speaking on behalf of religious life.

When I began my journey at Chowan, I was aware that this was a Christian University, but I never knew how much it would impact me. How much it would center me. 

I’ve always needed and welcomed God in my daily life prior to going to college. So as a freshman I knew I would need to continue to strengthen my relationship with Him. And Chowan helped me meet those needs. In addition to receiving an education, I was also getting spiritual support. There were people who offered prayers and hope throughout these four years. People like Mari Wiles, who were always a text and call away to encourage me. Sometimes classes were a bit challenging and I had disagreements with friends. So instead of choosing to struggle, I went straight to the Campus Ministry office to talk to our campus ministers. I also was able to serve the campus as a Chaplain and go on numerous Mission trips.

As a Chaplain I have had a chance to get to know my fellow classmates and support whoever needed me. Being a Chaplain has helped me to step out of my shell, and help somebody else. I am realizing this training will help me in future. Being a future educator, caring for students is a top priority. So the struggles they share with me, I will share with God in my prayers.

 And going on Mission trips has given me a broader view of how humbling yourself and serving can also be a form of education. I’ve learn so much about various types of people around the country. Each facing a different mountain, and each teaching me a different lesson. 

When I reflect back on my senior year of high school and how fearful I was, I am impressed. God has surpassed all of my expectations I had concerning my college experience. He has blessed me with much wisdom, strength, and friends. I am thankful to Chowan for welcoming God on the campus. I have grown so much intellectually, socially, and spiritually. I have witnessed that God knows our end, before we even begin.

BLAIRE ARIA DILLARD, an elementary education major, Chowan Christian ServiceScholar, and Ministry Chaplain, is the recipient of the VeraParker Womble Christian Service Award and Outstanding Student Award. During her tenure at Chowan, she served as a member of the Daughters of the Most High Praise Dance Team, Instruments of Praise Gospel Choir, Rotaract Club, and Kappa DeltaPi.

Kenneth Wilkerson - 2021

Dear  faculty, staff , family , friends, and most of all my fellow graduates. It is an honor to be speaking with you today as we close out this final chapter in our college journey and embark on the careers we’ve spent the last four years preparing for .

While I was very honored to be a commencement speaker, I’ve been Even more honored to have served as the Student Government President , a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated., Peer mentor, presidential ambassador, residential assistant, and a proud Member of Chowan’s  own football team. My journey at Chowan University has shaped me into the man I am now, and prepared me for life after college. As I stand before you, I couldn’t be more proud of my fellow graduates. Many I call friends who have turned into family. We’ve overcome every challenge that has come our way, especially graduating during a global pandemic. For that I am proud of each and every one of us.

 With that being said, I want to say this as well : leave from chowan university,  take all of your experiences, and apply them to the rest of your life. Learn from your mistakes and make a difference for the betterment of this world in what ever journey you have chosen to embark on. Within the last four years we’ve learned time management skills, accountability, ownership, confidence and that hard work will pay off in due time . We have our diplomas and wisdom we’ve learned to show for it. I believe I am graduating with some of the most talented people of my generation and I couldn’t be more proud of the class of 2021.

In conclusion, I would like to thank God, for without him I am nothing. My family , friends , instructors, and everyone who has supported me. To my beloved Chowan University, thank you for making me forever a Hawk. God bless you all and congratulations to the class of 2021 .

Michael W Wilkerson is a business administration major. He served asPresident of the Student Government Association. In addition to this leadership position, he served as an Undergraduate Resident Assistant, Presidential Ambassador, Peer Mentor, and defensive back on the football team. He is the recipient of the Outstanding Student Award and the Presidential Ambassador Award and is a member of Alpha LambdaDelta, which is the national honor society for first-year success

Justin Lough - 2021

Greetings all,

Wow, what a year that this has been. As we all have heard about a million times now, we are living in unprecedented times. I never thought that I would have to attempt to match my mask with my outfit for the day.

It is quite the honor to be standing amongst this class. I admit, I feel like an imposter standing in front of you all today. This is technically my Junior year here at Chowan and it feels wrong being picked to speak at this banquet.

If you don’t know me, my name is Justin Lough. When I came to Chowan in 2018, most people would have considered me less than stellar academically. I was a B student who did the bare minimum for the grade. I didn’t care about GPA or honor societies. I really only cared about three things: sports, video games, and of course…. girls.

I thought I was going to do the same thing that I always did in high school, just scrape by with the bare minimum. But as fate would have it, I got placed with three of the most inspiring professors ever. You may know them, you may not. I hope you know at least one of them, I mean he’s in the room.

Let’s begin with Dr. Cynthia Nicholson. One of the kindest, most caring people I ever met. She inspired me to be better, to do better, and not only the best student I could possibly be, but the best person I can be.

Next is Dr. Corina Wack, who is in contention with the hardest professor award along with Dr. McGuire. She taught me that I had to work for every single grade I got. She always gave tough love. Harsh, but never without kindness in her eyes.

And lastly Dr. Danny Moore. Now I do not know if everyone here has had the pleasure (or displeasure depending on your point of view) of reading Dr. Moore’s “Ponderings of the Provost”. It is not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination. To read the story of a man who had nothing at one point to becoming the provost of our University is almost unimaginable.

But I forgot to mention one more person…. Well persons. To you all, the senior class, who never faltered in your goal to graduate, despite COVID’s best efforts. My success here at this university is built of the backs of those who came before me. I would not have achieved all that I have without the guidance of the people here in this room. To those that gave me a tip for a class, encouraged me to keep working hard, reminded me of a project I completely forgot about; I am forever grateful. You are the reason I chose to graduate early. You are the reason I achieved what I did. You are the reason that the freshman that came here in 2018 is now leaving in 2020, eyes opened and ready to tackle what the future holds.

Thank you

JUSTIN N. LOUGH, a biology major, Commencement Marshal, and Presidential Ambassador, is the recipient of the Outstanding Student Award. He is also a member of the Order of the Silver Feather, swim team, BetaBetaBeta, AlphaLambda Delta, Chi AlphaSigma, Alpha Chi, SigmaZeta, HonorsCollege, and HonorsCollegeStudent Association.

Chris Hernandez - 2021

Thank you Dr. Moore for giving me the opportunity to speak today and thank you to the athletic department for the opportunity to be part of Chowan’s football family. I am honored to stand here before seniors and senior athletes. Congratulations to you for your achievements and success here at Chowan.

Ever since I was a child, my parents played an important role in my aspirations to attend college. You see, I came from immigrant parents who viewed education as luxury; therefore unattainable. As a result, they strived  to lay the foundation that would ultimately allow me to stand here before you. When I was in 9th grade, I realized that academics weren’t my strongest area, but one day one of my close friends from high school encouraged me to try out for football because he knew I had potential. The coach asked my friend Quinton, “Why isn’t that big guy playing football? Tell his big tail to go to the interest meeting.” I was a nervous wreck! I had never played football or any sports, in general. When I walked in, all I got was stares and, “Dang! He’s big for a Hispanic.” I made the team and from then on, I knew this was something I wanted to do and never gave up the opportunity to do it.

Surprisingly, football motivated me to make my academics a priority because I knew if I didn’t, I wouldn’t get into college. Ultimately football was my foothold to college.

These past four years as a student have gone by so quickly but I will forever cherish the memories I made with my teammates. Whether we lost or won, we always had fun. While at Chowan, I gained a sense of brotherhood, comradery, and I learned time management. Discipline on the field led to discipline in the classroom. Chowan gave me the ability to complete my goal I made since I was in high school which was to play collegiate Football. Chowan was a great opportunity for me and I am grateful for it. From the trainers, players and coaches I would not trade them for any other school. In retrospect,  I am happy that I made the decision to attend Chowan because I truly believe that they care about our future.

I think all of us--students and student athletes--would agree that being in college or playing a sport in college has taught us many lessons. Those lessons shaped us into who we are today, and those lessons will linger throughout our lives.

I would like to leave you with a quote that brings me back to my roots by Michael Josephson, a well known speaker, that states,   “Siéntete orgulloso de lo lejos que has llegado Y Ten fe en lo lejos que puedes llegar” which means “Take pride in how far you have come. Have faith in how far you can go”

So, when opportunity knocks, be ready. Drive forward, tear up the field, go for the touchdown. You never know where the path may lead.

CHRIS A. HERNANDEZ, a business administration major, Commencement Marshal, and member of the football team, is the recipient of the Outstanding Student Award. In addition, he is a member of the Honors College, Honors College Student Association, Alpha Lambda Delta, Alpha Chi, Sigma Beta Delta, and Rotaract Club.

Zoe Gray - 2020

Chowan is full of many great things and opportunities. It has a library of endless topics to read and learn from, labs full of discoveries and observations and especially a family full of love and support. 

When I first arrived on campus back in 2016, I made my mind up that I was going to stay in the background, keep my head down, do my work and graduate. I thought that I would never be considered important or memorable. All of that changed in my second semester when I was tapped for Alpha Lambda Delta honors society and the Honors College.  From that point on I felt important and like I was leaving my prints on Chowan soil. I felt like I was being noticed and that I was a part of a team. I thought that would be the end of my success here, but it never stopped. Being awarded scholarships, tapped for Pi Gamma Mu and Psi Chi honors societies, asked to join the Rotaract Club and Talon Club, being awarded outstanding student awards from the Honors College, I knew that I was meant to be a hawk and I was where I was meant to be.

Chowan has taught me many things about history, religion, politics and a whole lot of psychology. But it has taught me so much more than what books can teach me. It taught me to never quit when times are hard. It taught me to keep fighting, even if you are tired from staying up all night typing your senior capstone or a Dr. Moore paper that you had all semester to do, but you decided to type it the night before it was due and it is worth a good chunk of your final grade...sorry Dr. Moore. Chowan has also taught me how to grow in different aspects of my life through leadership roles throughout the campus. From being a peer mentor and helping freshmen like I once was to unlock their full potential, to designing posters and growing a social media following for the Rotaract Club. Working for the university as a student worker also allowed me to see what else I can do. From the Admissions office, to the Development office, to the Medical office, I am so grateful for each of those offices and what they have taught me. Given these opportunities allowed me to see my strong suits that I never thought about. 

I was able to learn all of this because of the faculty and staff here. I spent many times in offices crying and completely terrified that I would not get a good grade or even graduate at all. But that went away when I would hear the sincerity and the encouragement of these astounding professors. I had a lot of people looking out for me like I was their own child. I have so many “momma’s” here that care so deeply for my success and my future that kept me fighting. 

My success not only goes to the faculty and staff here, but also my family and friends. From the lifelong friends I have made here who would stay up with me and “study”, to the friends who graduated before me and continued to encourage me. To my family, thank you for the constant support and phone calls of me complaining and just ranting about how much work I had to do...y’all we made it.

Because of Chowan, I grew into someone who is fearless and can take on anything. Because of Chowan, I am exactly who I want to be. Because of Chowan, I have met amazing people who are lifelong. Because of Chowan, I met the love of my life who is from another country and would have never crossed paths if it was not for this amazing school. Because of Chowan, I have a community who is there for me no matter where I am. The open door policy does not change even after you leave, their doors are always open, so are their inboxes.

I am so honored to now have Chowan University as my Alma Mater from this day forward. I will forever bleed Chowan Blue.


Zoe Gray is a psychology major. During her tenure at Chowan, she earned membership in Alpha LambdaDelta, Psi Chi, and Pi Gamma Mu. A member of the HonorsCollege and HonorsCollegeStudent Association, she was the recipient of the HonorsCollege Outstanding Junior Award and Outstanding Senior Award. She was an active member of the Talon Club, the Psychology Club, the Religion Club, and the Rotaract Club, where she served as historian and Social Media Officer. In 2017, she received a Harris Scholarship to travel to Germany, France, and Switzerland.

Jacob Hunter - 2020


Different. One word, nine letters, many meanings. The literal definition is a state of not being the same as another or each other; unlike in nature, form, or quality. The figurative misconception can be perceived as being odd, weird, or an outsider. Personally, it has been a word that has sincere meaning to me and has led me down a path of self discovery.

Over the course of my adolescent years while excelling in the many facets of life, the label “different” has followed me. Rocky Mount, North Carolina was recently named one of the most dangerous small cities in the United States. Growing up, I witnessed childhood friends, sports teammates, and even family members fall victim to the toxic environments around them and lose their lives as a result. Seeing this made me want better so much better for myself and forced me to choose alternative routes. These routes included attending a private school, Rocky Mount Academy school where I was the only African American student in my graduating class for 3 years. After that, I chose to matriculate to a small university in a very rural community to earn my bachelor's degree. This choice was over what some would perceive as bigger and better options. I made decisions that weren't normal or typical, but these two decisions were critical in molding me into the person that I am today.

Did these decisions and choices come with many obstacles and challenges? Along the way did I lose important bonds with important people? Were there times where I second-guessed myself and my choices? The answer to all of these questions is an absolute, yes!  But with unconditional faith and a persistent work ethic to defy the odds I was able to overcome. It was these qualities that helped me surpass unimaginable goals both academically and athletically during my tenure at Chowan. They have also helped me complete my first year of graduate school at Georgetown University with a 4.0 GPA as I pursue a Master’s Degree in Cybersecurity Risk Management.

My advice to you all, is dare to be different. Step outside of your comfort zone. Nothing, and I mean nothing develops in your comfort zone. Challenge yourself daily. We all have unique qualities and gifts that we were blessed with but if we waste precious time attempting to fit in we will never realize we were made, built, and designed to stand out. I challenge you to be you. You’re the most qualified. In spite of today's society, in spite of your circumstances, in spite of how others will view you; be you. In the end, that will be the only thing that matters. Congratulations to the Class of 2020, and 2021 good luck in your future endeavors. Also, I would like to say Thank you Dr. Peterson, Dr. Moore, and the entire Chowan community for all you have done for me over the course of the past  4 years. Those times were some of the most memorable years of my life, and you all will always have a special place in my heart.

I want to leave you with a thought. There are over 7 billion people in this world. I’m quite sure there are thousands upon thousands of Jacob’s in the world. Truthfully if we google search my name, Jacob Hunter there are bound to me hundreds with that same somewhere in the world as well. My point is others may emulate, duplicate, or perhaps even imitate, but no one and I do me no one can ever AUTHENTICATE the person that you are. Only you can do that. Of all the things that we can strive for and strive to be in this lifetime, none of us will ever be successful at being another person. You were designed to be different. Be your authentic self, even if it means having the courage to walk in who YOU have been called to be. From the late great Maya Angelou, “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” Thank you so much for this opportunity, and I love each of you. Best Wishes.


Jacob Hunter is a criminal justice major. He is the recipient of several awards, including Best All Around Student and Outstanding Criminal Justice Student. He is a member of Alpha Chi, AlphaLambda Delta, Pi Gamma Mu, where he served as vice president, and AlphaPhi Sigma, where he served as president. In 2019, he presented the keynote address at the Academic and Founders' Day Convocation. A Presidential Ambassador, a Ministry Chaplain, and a member of the HonorsCollege and Honors College Student Association, he was named an Outstanding Student in both his junior and senior years.

Lorica Martin - 2020

Nevertheless, we persisted.

Last academic year I shared the story of my childhood and the consequences of the hardships I faced at a young age. I stand before you today a woman weathered by many storms. I have been broken, worn, defeated, angry, and confused. I have felt all of these emotions not only during the four years I spent earning my bachelor’s degrees but especially in the days and weeks following the celebration that was to be held months ago, the one everyone in my graduating class of 2020 looked forward to since August of 2016. I, like many of my peers, mourned the lost opportunities to savor the last moments of college with those dearest to me and felt that all of my efforts and all of my accomplishments were in vain. December 19th seemed little more than a distant, impossible promise. Nevertheless, I persisted. We all did. We are all here. Each one of us has endured countless struggles and tragedies and has emerged stronger and wiser. We are all battle-tested. Our battles far extend the sleepless nights, mountains of overdue homework, writer’s block, late-night hunger, heartbreak, and other stressors and frustration familiar to college students. As I look out, I am reminded that each of us is so much more than the worst thing we’ve ever experienced and that nothing, not even the most formidable forces, can keep us down. I mentioned my story earlier, but every one of you has a story. Stories of overcoming obstacles and persisting in the face of unthinkable adversity. I speak for you today. Our biggest accomplishment in our lives to date is being celebrated today, a day most of us thought would never come. Because we persisted. When late nights turned into unbearably early mornings, we persisted. When classes and coursework became so strenuous that it seemed we didn’t even have time to eat, we persisted. When it seemed professors undervalued the work we put our all into, we persisted. When it seemed like no fruits would come of our labor, we persisted. When it felt like no one acknowledged us, we persisted. Together. We have created lifelong bonds with the very people who sit beside, behind, and across from us. People who were once strangers, brought together out of a shared history of conquering tribulation after tribulation. Our lives were forever changed the moment we stepped foot on this campus, in a small town in eastern North Carolina. And although we could not foresee the experiences that would make us who we are in this moment on move-in day, we have grown in immeasurable ways because of God, each other, and our alma mater, Chowan University. Carry your resilience forward into your careers, marriages, and families. Transform your workplaces. Uplift others. And above all, never relinquish your desire to persist. Enjoy today; bask in the glory of success. Because each of us has definitely earned it. Thank you.

Loricia Martin is a double major in psychology and criminal justice. Named Best All-Around Student, she is the recipient of numerous other awards, including the Outstanding Student Award, Senior Ambassador Award, Pi Gamma Mu Scholarship Medal, AlphaLambda Delta Maria Leonard Senior Book Award, and HonorsCollegeScholar Award. She is a member of Alpha Chi, Alpha LambdaDelta, Pi Gamma Mu, Psi Chi, and AlphaPhi Sigma. A 2019 commencement marshal, Martin also served as president of the Honors CollegeStudent Association and a Presidential Ambassador.

Alexis Riddick - 2020

If someone would have told me, I could achieve what I have achieved within my four years here at Chowan, I would have laughed. I had a simple plan, which was to go to school, because I did not want to continue the family tradition of being employed by the shipyard. Physical Labor just was not for me. I had two options: work hard or work smart, so I chose to attend college. I never would have thought college consisted of networking, teambuilding, and involvement. I had the mindset of just getting good grades.

            Many of you know me as the President of Student Government, Senior Class President, an Outstanding student, or a Resident Director. These are just a few of the things I managed to achieve. Little do you all know, I did not have it all together, I did not have a plan. I had an advisor who saw potential in me that I did not see in myself. She pushed me and challenged me to be the best I was capable of. In addition to that I had a community of people here, who had faith in my future, when I did not have faith in myself.

            Four years ago, I was just a young woman, who had no expectations, no goals, or any ambition. I came to college with no intent yet here I am standing here in front of you today. The journey has exposed me to knowledge, wisdom, and many life changing experiences. Because of that, I feel in love with myself and the environment. Most importantly, I fell in love with “faith in your future.” I began to set expectations for myself, set goals and look at the world with a different view. I saw the possibilities, and immediately grew a desire to be better and do better. 

            So here I am, the child of a teen mother, a father with a GED, who can say that “With God, hard work and dedication, all things are possible.” I went from wanting nothing, to achieving every goal I set. I went from not caring about education to falling in love with it. Not only did I develop a drive that pushed me to do everything I put my mind to, but I developed a desire to help people see the good in themselves, even when it all seemed impossible. I grew a love of being involved, so I was an active member in every organization I could participate in. My experience at Chowan has shaped me and molded me in many ways that I will forever be grateful for. This journey has driven me to step outside of my comfort zone. I was challenged by facing new obstacles every day, although some were a lot more difficult than others. Yet, I was never alone. My peers and the faculty made this place feel like home.

            So here I am today, standing before you all to assure you that this accomplishment is major, and your hard work has not gone unnoticed. As you all walk into the next journey of your life, get comfortable being uncomfortable, because only when you are uncomfortable, you are experiencing growth. Put your heart into everything you do, show love, and compassion and remember to be true to yourself. As you start the next chapter of your life, you will have to work hard. That means dedicating your time and energy, just like we all did to be capable of claiming class of 2021. Yes, it may be hard. It may be rough, and it may be tiring. It may even feel impossible to land that job you dream of having but leave here today knowing nothing shall be impossible with God. As we all part our ways and branch off to different paths, never forget: “With God, hard work, and dedication all things are possible.”

Alexis Riddick is a business administration major. Named Best All-Around Student, she served as Student Government Association President and Senior
Class President. She is a member of the HonorsCollege, HonorsCollege Student Association, Phi Beta Lambda, Alpha LambdaDelta, Alpha Chi,
SigmaBetaDelta, and the Rotaract Club. She served as a peer Mentor, Academic Tutor, and Undergraduate Research Director. Honors include the
Outstanding Student Award, Outstanding HonorsCollegeSenior Award, and the Sigma Beta Delta Fellowship.