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Rice to HPU Graduates: Education is transformative

High Point University’s first doctoral graduates in Educational Leadership (Ed.D.). Photo courtesy High Point University High Point University’s first doctoral graduates in Educational Leadership (Ed.D.). Photo courtesy High Point University

HIGH POINT - “Education is transformative. It literally changes lives,” said Dr. Condoleezza Rice, the 66th Secretary of State of the United States, at the May 7 Commencement Ceremony for the class of 2016 at High Point University (HPU). “That is why people, for centuries, have worked so hard to become educated. Education, more than any other force, can help to erase arbitrary divisions of race and class. Arbitrary divisions of culture, and to unlock everyone’s God given potential.”

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Rice was the first African American woman to hold the position of National Security Adviser to President George W. Bush and went on to become the Secretary of State from 2005 until 2009.

Dr. Condoleeza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State during the presidency  of George W. Bush, delivered this year's commencement address at High Point University. Photo courtesy High Point University Dr. Condoleeza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State during the presidency of George W. Bush, delivered this year's commencement address at High Point University. Photo courtesy High Point University
“I think my father thought I might be President of the United States. I think he would’ve been satisfied with Secretary of State,” said Rice. “I’m a foreign policy person and to have a chance to serve my country as the nation’s chief diplomat at a time of peril and consequence, that was enough.”

Rice, named one of the most prominent graduation speakers of 2016 by USA Today, has made strides in education, earning a Bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Denver, her Masters from the University of Notre Dame and her Ph.D. from the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Rice went on to become a political science professor at Stanford University. In 1993, she became the first African American provost of the university.

The commencement speech heard from Rice on HPU’s Robert Hall Lawn by 10,000 guests and nearly 1,000 graduates, will join a long list of those given by other renowned speakers such as General Colin Powell, the first African American to serve as U.S. Secretary of State and the only African American to serve on the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan; Buzz Aldrin, one of two astronauts to land on the moon and the second person to walk on it; and Muhtar Kent, CEO of the Coca-Cola Company. This year’s commencement also marks the historic beginning of a new legacy for High Point University, presenting the first cohort to graduate with doctoral degrees in Educational Leadership.

HPU began this program in 2012. At the time of its inception, 81 students enrolled into the program and during commencement last Saturday the first group of 14 students, two from Alabama and 12 from various places in North Carolina, were conferred doctoral degrees.

According to HPU’s curriculum guide, the program is a “… practitioner-based, professional experience that focuses on the practices transformational leaders need to create educational systems that are grounded in research, are culturally responsive, strategic and which ultimately improve student learning.”

“I think this is monumental to be a part of the first doctoral program at High Point University,” said LaJuanna Norfleet. “The experience has been rigorous and at the same time fulfilling. The professors were very astute in their instruction and knowledge-base. Specifically, Dr. Barbara Mallory (Associate Professor, Educational Leadership) and Dr. Donald Martin (Professor of Education) with their expertise and leadership, and having a global framework in how they were preparing us to be scholarly leaders was amazing. I couldn’t ask for a better experience.”

In addition to the Educational Leadership program, HPU also has doctoral programs in Physical Therapy and Pharmacy.

Note-worthy commencement speakers and doctoral programs are just small pieces of HPU President Nido Qubein’s grand design for the university. Since beginning his tenure as HPU’s president 11 years ago, the university has added 59 study abroad programs to the original five which began in 2005, increased its operating and capital budget by 663 percent, and tripled its number of full-time faculty members.

While statistics such as these have helped to repeatedly rank HPU as No.1 on the America’s Best Colleges list, the No.1 Best Regional College in the South three years running and the No.1 Most Innovative Regional College in the South for 2016 by U.S. News & World Report, it is President Qubein’s personal account of coming to the United States without his parents, barely understanding English, and with only $50 dollars in his pocket, that has inspired many students to strive for success.

“From the point I came on campus, I looked at the president as a source of inspiration. He started from nothing and was able to get to where he is,” said Reza Moghtaderi Esfahani, a 2016 graduate in computer science.

Esfahani came to the United States from Iran at the age of 17. His parents still remain there. He said he is not allowed to return to his homeland and he was unable to obtain visas for his parents to attend his graduation. Five years have passed since they have seen each other, however, similar to Qubein, Esfahani has not let his backstory deter him from becoming another success story.

One week after graduation, Esfahani and his team will be flying to New Orleans to work on a project that involves programming super computers and applying them to the study of the brain’s neural system. Their company, Cirtual, has several projects in the works but a key opportunity arose when Britton Sanderford, chief technology officer of Sensus (a technology company), spoke on entrepreneurship during a campus seminar. Sanderford is providing Esfahani’s team one of its first consulting opportunities and work space in New Orleans.

Several students crossing the stage donned multiple chords of distinction with their graduation regalia. Rolanda Kelly, a native of Clinton, Maryland was conferred Bachelor of Science degrees in both Exercise Science and Biology. She wore seeveral honor society chords representing organizations such as the Who’s Who Honor Society, the Hoster Club, Health Occupation Students of America Club, Beta Beta Beta Biological Honor Society, Biology Club and the Black Culture Awareness Club. Kelly described her college graduation experience as “surreal and bittersweet.”

At the conclusion of the commencement ceremony, an American Bald Eagle was released and flew over the graduates as a symbolic reminder that HPU has given the class of 2016 wings to soar and be successful without restriction.

To learn more about doctoral programs at HPU, contact Graduate Admissions located in Norcross Hall at One University Parkway, High Point, N.C. 27268 or call (336) 841-9198.

Naari Honor is a junior majoring in Psychology and English with a minor in African American Studies at Guilford College. Her hometown is Lewiston, N.Y.