Graduates urged to further school’s storied tradition
It was standing room only in the picturesque May Dell amphitheater Saturday as Salem College handed out degrees to 218 graduates.
Surrounded by towering shade trees, students crossed a stone bridge over a running stream to walk across the stage to receive their degrees.
Though a women’s college, Salem does have a few male students in certain academic programs, so a few male graduates marched alongside the ladies.
Salem, which enrolls only about 1,100, is the nation’s oldest women’s college; its roots stretch back to before the start of the Revolutionary War.
“Over 240 years ago, the seeds of an idea were planted, the idea that women could be given an education and the knowledge (so) that they could be sent out to change the world for the better,” said Charles Blixt, chair of the school’s Board of Trustees.
Salem was progressive before its time. The college admitted its first African American student in 1785 and its first American Indian student in 1826. Today, 25 percent of the school’s student body are students of color and seven percent are international students.
Charlene Hunt, 38, a Lumbee Indian and a first-generation college graduate, was proud to be part of that tradition. Before coming to Salem she was a pre-school teacher. Hunt said she decided to pursue higher education to inspire not only her future students but her own two children.
“I thought in order for me to teach children and my children about the importance of education, I need to be educated myself,” she said.
Hunt said she came to Salem “looking for a sisterhood,” and she found it. During her time at the school, she interned with the North Carolina Indian Health Board and the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity. She left Salem Saturday with a degree from the Teaching, Schools and Society program. She hopes to become an American Indian education coordinator, a position in many school systems with large American Indian student populations.
Student Government Association President Christina Johnson, 21, majored in business administration with concentrations in
entrepreneurship and Spanish. The Middletown, Del. native said she fell in love with Salem’s quaint campus the first time she visited.
“It’s amazing,” said Johnson, who plans to teach English abroad before entering graduate school.
“The class size is small; it makes great leaders; it’s an excellent place to just grow and become the best you could possibly be.”
Lucy Rose, a Salem alumna who worked for Mead Johnson Pharmaceuticals and the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), gave the commencement address.
During her tenure at CDER in the ’90s, she led the division that regulated all prescription drug advertising and marketing before heading CDER’s Office of Training and Communications. Today she runs her own pharmaceutical consulting firm.
Rose urged the graduates to embrace change and make the world a better place in their own way. She encouraged them to give of themselves and stand up for what they believe in.
“Use your courage to demand equality in all that you do and all that you are,” she said. “Our heritage demands that of you.”