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NASA’s Wyche encourages CCU graduates to reach for the stars

May 10, 2022
 Vanessa Wyche, a Conway, S.C., native and director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, addressed Spring 2022 graduates at the Universitywide ceremony on May 7.18 students received the President’s Award for Academic Achievement, which recognizes graduates with the highest cumulative grade point averages.Degrees were conferred en masse during Saturday morning’s ceremony. Each of CCU’s academic colleges held individual ceremonies throughout the weekend.

Coastal Carolina University held its spring commencement exercises May 6-7, with approximately 1,550 candidates eligible to participate. A Universitywide ceremony recognizing all graduates was held on Saturday, May 7, at 9 a.m. in Brooks Stadium and featured a keynote address by Vanessa Wyche, a Conway, S.C., native and director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Wyche received an honorary Doctor of Science degree during the ceremony and also received a key to the city from Conway Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy while on campus.

In her address, Wyche focused on three C’s – curiosity, community, and courage – she believes graduates need for success.

She spoke of the curiosity she had for hands-on learning from a young age, from trips to the Conway library to doing chemistry experiments in the backyard with her older brother.

Wyche recognized her high school biology teacher, Pat Lane, for encouraging her to pursue a career in science, and her educator parents, siblings, family, neighbors, Girl Scout leaders, Sunday school and church leaders, librarians, and others in the community who encouraged her to pursue her dreams. She remembers watching the Conway High School Tigers play football on what is now CCU’s campus, and taking the SAT and GRE exams at the University.

“Conway is where I got the foundation for success,” the Horry County native said.

Wyche said that even with all the confidence in the world, it was courage that allowed her to get where she is today, courage to try new things and to possibly fail.

“You will not advance if you are not willing to take risks: to put yourself out there and see what you are capable of doing,” she said. “But you must have courage because when you take risks, failure is possible. But you must get back up and move forward. Failure is an opportunity.”

Wyche shared highlights from her career at NASA, including work on the new moon vehicle, Orion, and assembling the team of astronauts for Artemis, NASA’s Moon to Mars program. With Artemis, NASA will launch the first woman and first person of color to the moon.

“Now is such an exciting time to be in space,” she said. “NASA is making great progress on our plans, systems, and technologies needed for human exploration of the moon and Mars.”

In closing, Wyche encouraged graduates to embrace the three C’s as they leave CCU.

“As you progress in your careers, share your experiences and knowledge with your siblings and others in your communities, and encourage them to pursue their dreams,” she said. “I had many mentors along the way, and it will be important for you to mentor the next generation. I challenge everyone to get involved and help us grow the next generation of explorers … We’re always hiring at NASA. I’d love to see a few Chanticleers in Houston reaching for the stars!”

Saturday’s ceremony also included remarks from CCU President Michael T. Benson, Student Government Association President Brianna Martin, and William E. Turner III of CCU’s board of trustees.

During his remarks to the Class of 2022, Benson said: “This is your moment … seize the opportunity and strive to make a difference. Do something of benefit to the world with the education you have worked so hard to obtain. Avail yourself of the boundless opportunities before you, given the skills and abilities you have acquired and the investments made by you and others in your training. Yes, for most of you, this is the end of your Coastal Carolina University education, but, as the name of today’s ceremony suggests – commencement – it is only the beginning of the big, bold adventure that awaits as you enter the world as a proud Chanticleer graduate. Congratulations!”

Martin, a 2022 graduate herself, shared words of encouragement with her classmates during Saturday morning’s ceremony.

“As students, we all face these different challenges and different issues like self-doubt, taking a course that’s a little harder than we expected, and struggling with our motivation to turn in assignments or trying to manage our mental state,” she said. “Just look at the past few years. We have adjusted to life before a pandemic, through a pandemic, and now living in a new reality. We have survived it all! I just want to remind you that throughout all these trials we made it here, to this moment. So, when you’re feeling defeated or overwhelmed, I want to remind you about seeing the light at the end of that tunnel. There is always hope, even in your darkest moments.”

The University recognized seven retiring faculty members for their teaching, research, and community service during the weekend’s exercise. William B. King, associate professor of psychology in the Gupta College of Science, was honored with professor emeritus status. J. Ralph Byington, professor of accounting and former dean of the Wall College of Business Administration, who also held various interim administrative roles at the University level; John Goodwin, professor of chemistry in the Gupta College of Science; J. Kay Keels, Ph.D., professor of management and decision sciences in the E. Craig Wall Sr. College of Business Administration; Gregory L. Krippel, professor of accounting in the Wall College of Business Administration; and James Luken, professor of biology and associate dean in the Gupta College of Science, were honored with distinguished professor emeritus status. Michael Roberts, dean of the Gupta College of Science, was honored with distinguished dean emeritus status.

18 students received the President’s Award for Academic Achievement, which recognizes graduates with the highest cumulative grade point averages. The award recipients all have perfect 4.0 GPAs, graduating summa cum laude:

• Elizabeth Mikayla Brown, early childhood education, Conway, S.C.

• Greggory Shawn Brown, management, Conway, S.C.

• Morgan Anne Burdette, hospitality, resort, and tourism management, Honea Path, S.C.

• Brandon M. Davis, communication, Conway, S.C.

• Nathan Mathew Dempski, engineering science, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

• Deanna Lee Farrie, early childhood education, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

• Lauren Haley Garris, interdisciplinary studies, Marion, S.C.

• Kelis Nicole Herriott, theatre arts, Georgetown, S.C.

• Morgan-Mckay Hoppman, intelligence and national security studies, Dalzell, S.C.

• Klea Hoxha, biochemistry, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

• Desirae K. Jones, graphic design, Conway, S.C.

• Colin Michael Keoghan, political science, Conway, S.C.

• Kamryn L. Kershaw, economics, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

• Michael R. Link, information systems, Colfax, N.C.

• Natalie Morgan Morris, marketing, Apex, N.C.

• Olivia Morgan Stringfield, marketing, Aiken, S.C.

• Grace Marion Weatherston, elementary education, Belmont, N.C.

• Adi Zacks, theatre arts, Milltown, N.J.

The Spadoni College of Education and Social Sciences recognized 10 students who have completed the Doctor of Philosophy in Education program, the first cohort. Students in the program study one of three specialization areas: educational leadership; higher education administration; and curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

Degrees were conferred en masse during Saturday morning’s ceremony. Each of CCU’s academic colleges held individual ceremonies throughout the weekend, where graduates’ names were called and they had the opportunity to walk across the stage and receive their diploma covers.