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Coastal Carolina University holds largest commencement

May 9, 2009

Nearly 900 students participated in Coastal Carolina University's commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 9 at Brooks Stadium.

Commencement speaker Edward Ball -- winner of the 1998 National Book Award for his book, "Slaves In the Family" -- spoke about family connections to graduates and their families, touching on his own "vexed inheritance" of a privileged white family that owned slaves. He also spoke of First Lady Michelle Obama, "a woman with good South Carolina roots," the great-great-granddaughter of Georgetown County slaves, now in the White House.

Speaking to the crowd of approximately 9,000 people, Ball said, "This is a family day, a meeting of kith and kin, a temporary and marvelous community." To the graduates he said, "You are living out the dreams of those who came before you, perhaps 100 years in their graves. If we think of those who are here in spirit, we might fill two stadiums."

Referring to formal instruction and textbooks, Ball exhorted the graduates to "listen for what they don't say," tossing his own books into the sea of black gowns at the end of his talk. "The world is making room for you; bring it on!"

Ball received the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters. Clay D. Brittain Jr., Hilda M. Carter and Arthur Herbert (Doc) Lachicotte Jr. received the honorary degree Doctor of Public Service.

Six students received the President's Award for Academic Achievement, which recognizes students with the highest cumulative grade point averages. The recipients of the award, who all had perfect 4.0 grade point averages, graduating summa cum laude, were Amelia Hammond, Jessica Hilton, Susan Key, Ryan Rossi, Marcie Veitch and Marcie Willis.

Ryan Rossi, from Pawleys Island, earned a degree in computer science. He is an undergraduate student research fellow with NASA and is currently conducting research at the NASA jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. He plans to pursue his doctorate at Purdue University in the fall. He has been awarded three prominent fellowships for his studies.

Jessica Hilton, from Millersville, Md., earned a bachelor's degree with a double major in biology and psychology. She conducted undergraduate research on dolphin behavior and shark biology, studied tree frogs in Maryland and presented the results of her research at a national science conference. Active as a community volunteer, Hilton worked with foster children for the Department of Social Services, mentored area elementary school children through the University's mentoring program, and volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, Relay for Life and Project Lighthouse.

Marcie Marie Veitch of Ontario, Canada, earned a bachelor's degree in biology and plans to attend medical school at the University of Ottawa. A distinguished athlete (pole vaulter), Veitch was recognized as an Academic All American by ESPN the Magazine, and she won the Big South Conference Scholar Athlete of the Year for Indoor and Outdoor Track.

Marcie JoBeth Willis, of Fredericksburg, Va., earned a bachelor's degree in English. A dancer, she participated in many aspects of the University's theater productions. She plans to teach dance, work at the Alabama Theatre and continue her freelance writing career. She is a member of Sigma Tau Delta honor society.

Amelia Hammond, of Gainesville, Ga., who earned a bachelor's degree in drama, has been an honors student, had leading roles in several University theatre productions, served as president of the theater honor society and was recognized as the top student in the Department of Theatre. She plans to attend graduate school at the University of Houston and earn an MFA in acting.

Susan Key, from Myrtle Beach, earned a degree in education and plans to teach in a K-3 classroom in Horry County. A full-time student, wife and mother, Key has been named to the President's List five times, and she served with Kappa Delta Pi education honor society.