Among the 1,100 Winston-Salem State University graduates who heard from famed poet Nikki Giovanni at Saturday’s Spring Commencement was George Banks, who graduated alongside his wife, Kathleen, after overcoming great challenges.
The 52-year-old earned his business administration degree in less than four years while running two businesses with his wife and fighting cancer. The 33 rounds of radiation treatments and chemotherapy to battle the tumor on his tongue did not keep him from attending classes, even when he was robbed of his ability to speak and swallow for a year. He wore a feeding tube in classes and communicated through written and text messages. Through it all, he was determined to graduate with his wife, who also earned a degree in business administration.
“I really wanted to finish and get that off my mind,” he said. “It just kept me motivated.”
Kathleen Banks praised the university’s faculty for supporting her and her husband during their ordeal. She is grateful that her husband has been cancer free for the last year.
“No matter how much rain comes today, it’s sunshine to us all day,” she said, referring to the on-again/off-again stormy conditions outside of the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Giovanni, an award winning poet, novelist, essayist and Virginia Tech professor, gave a brief but inspiring speech using controversial explorer Christopher Columbus as an example of someone who “sailed on,” pursuing his dreams no matter what others said about him. She encouraged the graduates to do the same.
“He sailed on because it’s an interesting proposition to be alive,” said Giovanni. “And we wish you young people the best, but we know this: whatever you do, you must continue to sail on.”
Other speakers included valedictorian Almaroof Agoro. The 38-year-old double majored in economics and finance, achieving a 4.0 GPA. While working a full-time job, the Lagos, Nigeria native earned his degree in just two and a half years. He praised WSSU as this country’s best university.
“It’s been great. I can’t wish for more,” he said before the ceremony.
Linwood Woodley, 23, ended a glorious college career when he received his economics and finance degree. He was a running back on the school’s football team, a former Mr. WSSU, and earlier this year, Woodley became the manager of the first-ever WSSU student investment fund. Made possible by a gift from BB&T, which provided $50,000 in start up funds, the fund provides students hands-on experience at researching, buying and selling investments, while earning money for future student scholarships.
Woodley, whose father and sister are also WSSU grads, takes pride in helping to start the fund.
“It’s a beautiful thing because I know it’s going to be great for the students,” said Woodley. “We had to start it from scratch, and it’s just their job to take it to another level.”