Neither Kevin Smith nor his girlfriend, Kristen Bryant, envisioned themselves attending Wake Forest University at first, but the couple soon found that the school, like their relationship – which blossomed from a four year friendship – was exactly what they were looking for.
Bryant had applied to Colombia University but was wait listed.
“I tell people all the time that Wake Forest was not my first choice,” admitted the 21 year-old. “But after awhile, I couldn’t imagine myself going anywhere else.”
The two were among more than a thousand WFU graduates who were sent-off into the real world during commencement exercises Monday on the university’s green quad.
Charlie Ergen, the chairman of satellite broadcaster DISH Network Corporation and a member of WFU’s Class of 1976, delivered the Commencement Address. Ergen, whose daughter is a member of the Class of 2012, advised the graduates to never stop learning. For Bryant and Smith, that is exactly what the last four years has been all about: learning more about themselves, about others, and about the world around them.
For Smith, an accomplished member of the WFU track and field team, the first thing he had to learn was how to be a Demon Deacon fan.
“I grew up a huge Duke fan,” confessed the Wilson native. “I’m obsessed with Duke basketball. I love Wake Forest in football and soccer, but in basketball, I always pull for Duke.”
Smith received scholarship offers from a wide variety of schools, including Johns Hopkins. The English-political science double major said he was looking for a balance between his physical and intellectual pursuits. He had set his sights on the Blue Devils, but in the end, he said Wake Forest ended up being a better fit.
“I really wanted to go to a school that was academically comparable to its athletics program,” related Smith, who attended WFU on an academic scholarship.
It didn’t take long for the Wake Forest community to worm its way into the couple’s hearts.
“I just love the people,” commented Bryant, a native of Augusta, Ga. “You know anywhere you go from here on out, you are a part of the club. You’re a Demon Deacon for life.”
Bryant, a sociology major who served as a resident advisor (RA) for three out of her four years on campus, said one of her most formative learning experiences was the semester she spent abroad in Dakar, Senegal last spring.
“I was there for four months, and I was with a host family,” she stated. “I didn’t know a soul when I got in the place, and I came back with friends there, and friends from different colleges.”
Being in Senegal gave her a different perspective on the interpersonal relationships she was building at Wake Forest and in her personal life and deepened her focus on the importance of establishing bonds with those around her, said Bryant, the second of two children.
“Senegalese culture just promotes so much more interaction with people, way more than we do in America, and I think that’s something my eyes were opened to, just in being there,” she remarked.
Bryant followed her trip to Senegal with a trek to Kien Giang, Vietnam, where she spent her winter break building Habitat for Humanity homes alongside fellow members of the WFU Volunteer Service Corps.
“It was so rewarding,” she commented. “We helped people and we saw the people that we helped.”
Smith, the oldest of three children, broadened his horizons by pushing the boundaries of his personal and professional experience as an intern at Viacom’s Logo Network in New York City, an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) friendly station founded by a former MTV executive.
“I ended up being the only straight male working in the entire department,” he related. “It was an experience that I definitely wouldn’t trade for the world. It was fun getting different people’s perspectives… I think it’s benefitted me, especially in talking with my peers that may not have been immersed in that community, because it’s hard if you’ve not been brought up around it.”
A lover of the written word, Smith did freelance work for the Old Gold & Black student newspaper and served as an executive on the board for the English Student Association, and as an ambassador for Words Awake!, a fledgling program the school launched earlier this year to highlight WFU alumni who are making a living as writers. This spring, he also took part in the M4 (Making Manhood Mean More), initiative, a mentoring program that focuses on black male masculinity, relationships, etiquette and everything in between.
“We just talked about the black male experience in the US and also in a university setting,” explained Smith. “From that forum, we really learned how to shape the way that we see things… it’s definitely an empowerment movement.”
Byrant, who has a background in theater, was active in the Can I Poet student organization, including serving as president her sophomore year. She also appeared in “Wake World,” an annual program staged by current students for incoming freshmen that pokes fun at life on campus and tells the newcomers what to expect through skits and plays.
Though they have enjoyed countless learning experiences over the course of their four years at WFU, Bryant and Smith say what has stuck with them most is a commitment to service.
“I want to be doing something that matters, and I think that I could speak for most of my classmates when I say that, because that is what we’ve been taught here,” Bryant said. “Wake Forest doesn’t have a community service requirement, but it would surprise me if anyone in our graduating class has not volunteered at least once in their college experience. I don’t think that’s an average collegiate mindset, but it’s something that happens a lot on Wake Forest’s campus.”
“Being at Wake makes you a humanist,” Smith agreed. “It makes you consider a worldwide perspective.”
Both Bryant and Smith will be staying on Wake Forest as fellows next year. Bryant will serve in the division of Student Life as one of 10 on-campus fellows in a year-long program, and Smith will serve as an alumni giving fellow in the school’s Office of Advancement. Over the course of his two-year stint, Smith will attempt to increase alumni giving by interacting with thousands of WFU grads, a component of the job he is greatly looking forward to.
“I’ve never met one I didn’t like,” he said of Wake Forest alumni. “You can be different in your academic and social perspectives, but you’re still part of a large collective of Demon Deacons. You can really be a part of a legacy here at Wake; they really take pride in the quality of people they put out into the world.”
Graduates credit WFU with shaping them