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CCU’s first doctoral candidate tells graduates: ‘The world needs us’

May 11, 2019
Leigha Peterson, CCU's first doctoral candidate, gave the commencement address.President David A. DeCenzo addresses the Class of 2019.More than 1,200 students were eligible to participate in commencement ceremonies.

Coastal Carolina University graduates are exactly what the world needs, according to commencement speaker and doctoral candidate Leigha Peterson.

Peterson addressed the graduating class of 2019 – more than 1,200 students – during three separate commencement ceremonies at the HTC Student Recreation and Convocation Center May 10-11.

“Whatever you are, put it out there,” she said, “because it is better than good enough. It is exactly what the world needs!”

Peterson shared bits of her journey with the graduates, which have taken her from Coastal Carolina’s shores to the Antarctic to southern Brazil. She faced several naysayers along the way, she said, but “respectfully ignored them,” and her choices led her to an incredible job opportunity that she revealed for the first time in her address.

“Today, I am proud to share with you all that I have accepted a position to serve this country in the intelligence community concerning matters of national security,” she said. “I think I made the right choice in CCU!”

Peterson was more than the commencement speaker during the ceremonies. At the conclusion of her address on Saturday, she became the first student in Coastal Carolina University history to earn her Ph.D. in the inaugural hooding ceremony.

As the first student to earn all three of her degrees from CCU (B.S. in 2011, M.S. in 2014 and Ph.D. in 2019), Peterson’s time at the University was uncharted territory.

“I didn’t have a map, an example of what my path could look like,” she said. “But it just might be that the greatest adventures are uncharted territory. It’s easy to be intimidated. But if we doubt our abilities and if we choose to believe the ‘no’s’ we hear, then we might end up watching someone else live the adventure we were too afraid to take. Without us, no one will lead, discover, invent or innovate. You and me, we are the future!”

Nine students received the President's Award for Academic Achievement, which recognizes students with the highest cumulative grade point averages. The recipients of the award all had perfect 4.0 GPAs, graduating summa cum laude:

• Brooke Elizabeth Bloomquist from Riva, Md., earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theatre.

• Kiarra Elyse Donnelly from Cumming, Ga., earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre arts.

• Alexander Oneal Foster, from Little River, S.C., earning a Bachelor of Science in applied mathematics.

• Anne Elizabeth Hobdy, from West Friendship, Md., earning a Bachelor of Science in marine science.

• Krystina McAllister Millar, from Murrells Inlet, S.C., earning a Bachelor of Arts in sociology.

• Kaitlyn Rhea Nichols from Myrtle Beach, S.C., earning a Bachelor of Arts in Education in early childhood education.

• Emily Towne, from Myrtle Beach, S.C., earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in accounting.

• Amanda Nicole White from Rutland, Mass., earning a Bachelor of Science in interdisciplinary studies.

• Madison Walker Wolf, from Golden, Colo., earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in economics.

This spring commencement ceremony also saw the largest class of Honors Program students graduate in program history. Eighty-three honors students earned their degrees after completing a rigorous curriculum composed of at least 24 hours of honors work and cumulating a GPA of at least 3.5. The cumulative GPA of the graduating class is 3.72.

Retiring CCU faculty member Dennis Rauch, Ph.D., was recognized for his service with the title of Distinguished Professor Emeritus. Rauch, professor of marketing, has spent more than 31 years at Coastal Carolina. He was assistant dean of the business college from 1992-1997 and the Colonel Lindsey H. Vereen Professor of Marketing from 1999-2008.

Retiring instructor Robert Oliver was also recognized for his service to the University with the title Distinguished Instructor. Oliver has been teaching courses at CCU since 1998 and served the University in multiple capacities during his tenure. He is the author of “A Faithful Hearth: The Journals of Emmala Reed 1865 and 1866.”

Robert Rabon, former member of the board of trustees, was awarded a Doctor of Public Service at the Saturday commencement ceremony. Rabon is a lifelong Horry County resident and has owned Associated Realty since 2006.

All three commencement ceremonies were streamed live on Coastal Carolina University’s Facebook page.

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