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Promise Fulfilled, Accomplishment Achieved at WSSU Commencement on May 14


WINSTON-SALEM, NC -- For Jeanette Valentine, earning her bachelor’s degree in business administration will be fulfilling on many levels.


Valentine, 50, is one of the approximately 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students who are expected to participate in WSSU’s Spring Commencement exercises on May 14 at 9:45 a.m. in the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Stephen A. Smith, noted journalist, media personality and motivational speaker, will be the keynote speaker.


Commencement will mark a special satisfaction not just because Valentine, a travel audit officer in WSSU’s accounting department, will be graduating with her 24-year-old son William R. Valentine. It’s because of a long-time promise fulfilled. Valentine made the promise to her mother back in 1978. Her mother and father never graduated from high school. When Valentine’s mother, who was battling cancer, asked her to promise she would graduate college, Valentine did. Valentine’s mother died two weeks before she graduated high school. Valentine was devastated over losing her mother.


“I started school at WSSU that year, but it lasted only one semester. I didn’t have the drive. I was still too distressed and overcome by my mother’s death. I couldn’t focus on school,” Valentine said.


Instead, Valentine got married, had two children and eventually went to work at a few jobs before coming to work at WSSU in 2006. In 2007, she decided to return to school since her children were adults. At the same time, her son who graduated high school in 2004 was thinking about returning to college after quitting previously. By fall 2007, both with full-time jobs returned to school at WSSU. He was an exercise science major and she was in the School of Business and Economics.


“He was so career focused on his job and he was doing well. But I kept pushing him and telling him he had to get a degree. I was thrilled he came back to school and that we were in school at the same time. It was exciting,” said Valentine.


Eventually Valentine saw her son was distracted by work. They talked and it was he who asked they agree to push each other so they could graduate at the same time.


That time is now. Valentine is thrilled they are graduating together. She says it feels like she has kept the promise made to her mother times two.

“In addition to the accomplishment, it may be quite an emotional day,” Valentine said.


Valentine is a member of Beta Gamma Sigma, the international honor society for collegiate schools of business as well as Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honor society for Adult Learners in Continuing Higher Education. She plans to pursue her master’s degree at Liberty University.


Extraordinary Journey

It will be a festive ending to an extraordinary journey for Jerrica Scott, 24, of Winston-Salem. For Scott, commencement will symbolize the end of a passage marked by limitations, fear and uncertainty. It will be a celebration of a personal renaissance, driven by a theme that anything is possible with faith, passion and purpose.


“No matter how bad things may look, you can make a difference in your own life and the lives of others if you work really hard and know things can change. Soon things may look different, then not so bad, better, even good.”


Scott’s journey is verification of her belief. She entered WSSU to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree in elementary education six years ago as a single teen-aged mom. During that time as a full-time student, living on her own with her young daughter, she worked full-time, changed majors multiple times, quit school, got married, had another child, returned to school, made up a semester of credits lost when she quit and found her way back to the major that gave her the purpose.


“Just before I started my freshman year, I could hear people saying now that I had a baby as a teenager, my life was over or I wouldn’t get very far,” noted Scott. “Because I got pregnant in high school and had a baby in my first year of college, it didn’t mean I would be a failure. I did not want to be the stereotype of a young single mom who would work only at fast food restaurants or be on welfare the rest of her life.”


Although Scott was determined, she became distracted during her second year.


“I was failing classes miserably. I was living on my own and I was 18 years old. I felt lost and beaten, so I quit school,” Scott said who worked as a waitress. “Then one day, my manager told me the biggest thing he regretted was not finishing school. So if you don’t want to be waiting tables for the rest of your life, you need to go back to school. “


That was the turning point for Scott. She also thought about her mother, a cosmetologist, who always stressed the importance of education and often expressed interest in wanting her children to be greater than she. Scott soon quit her job and returned to school. Her best friend and others helped her find her way back to the major that aligned with where her talents and passions had always been -- elementary education.


“My best friend told me this is what I suppose to be doing. She told me we are going over there right now and you are going to get enrolled back into school. I just thank her,” said Scott.


Then she met a good man who cared about her and her daughter. It was like an unattainable dream. They soon married. Her second daughter was born in 2010. Now in school and completely focused on her education, Scott delivered the baby on a Friday and returned class on Monday.


Scott is currently working as a substitute teacher and searching for a fulltime permanent teaching job. She is also going to be the “first in my family to graduate college.”


Multiple Job Offers Early in Her Senior Year

Information technology major Kristen Dunlap, 21, of Charlotte, has accomplished a standout achievement, even before she completed her last year of college. In this challenging economy, she had two job offers from Fortune 500 companies one before her senior year, the other early in her senior year. She selected one position which she will begin this summer.


Dunlap attributes her success to internships, which she began participating in back in her freshman year. That first one was a summer research experience for undergraduate WSSU computer science students at WSSU, funded by NASA. She used, GIS visualization tools to visualize North Carolina weather patterns. The goal of the summer program was to expose students to researching skills and help to develop their problem solving and critical thinking skills.


For her second year, Dunlap interned at the NASA Langley, Va., facility where she worked as a liaison between the technology and client teams for the database tracking system used to manage NASA’s contractual projects.


For summer 2010, she was an intern at Altria Client Services in Richmond ,Va., where she worked on data archiving to consolidate previous and current information to migrate to a new system.


“You can never underestimate the value of internships. I started utilizing the WSSU Career Services office in my second year. My parents always told me to be aggressive at seeking job opportunities. I didn’t want to be a person to work hard for four years and have no job in the end,” Dunlap said.


She will start her new job at Altria Client Services as an IT assistant analyst.


The Entertainment Mogul

Erikka Rainey, 22, of Philadelphia wants to be a female Sean “P-Diddy” Combs. In fact, she has wanted to be an entertainment mogul from a very young age. As a child, she dabbled in music and even took classes, but by age 14, she knew wholeheartedly that she wanted to be on the business side of the music industry.


“When I first learned about P-Diddy, I knew that was where I wanted my future to be,” said Rainey. “I look up to P- Diddy because I’m working to be the first female to start a record label, then restaurants, clothing lines and television shows.”


When she sees a famous entertainer, she wonders what sort of things they did in their career to get famous. If not famous, she wonders what it would take to make them famous. While at WSSU she jumped at every opportunity to market and promote musical artists and events. She worked with Hidden Beach Recordings to promote events for a new CD. She passed out flyers and did social media and internet marketing for jazz artist Monette Sudler of Philadelphia this past summer.


“If there’s one thing I live by, it’s take advantage of all opportunities. Don’t close yourself off to anything. You never know what you will learn that can be the key to your future,” Rainey said.


An honor student, Rainey will be attending New York University’s (NYU) music business program in the fall. She plans to maintain at least one home in New York City after graduate school when her career kicks off.

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Taken on May 14, 2011