Lees-McRae College Commencement was held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 7 at the Williams Physical Education Center inside Williams Gymnasium on the Banner Elk campus. Degrees were conferred upon 219 graduates during the ceremony.
Dr. Houck Medford, founder and CEO Emeritus of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, delivered the commencement address titled “The Long View.” He shared solid advice with graduates based on his own life experiences.
“After six decades of life, repeatable patterns of observing others emerge which give one a perspective on human truths. These observations crystallize with time and experience, and I have discovered that the best relationships are those which are saturated with trust.” Medford then explained the common denominator for trusting relationships.
“Compassion is the common denominator for trusting relationships. I define compassion as the moment to moment proactive regard for others in speech, listening and expression,” said Medford.
At the conclusion of Dr. Medford’s address, degrees were conferred upon the graduates by President Buxton. Then, Alumni Board President Lynn Swisher Neese ’88/’90 inducted the Class of 2011 into the Alumni Association. Neese said, “May your travels in life take you far, but always bring you back to Lees-McRae College.”
Honorary Doctorate of Humanities degrees were conferred upon two significant benefactors of Lees-McRae College and current members of the College’s Board of Trustees, Mr. Edward E. Hood, Jr. and Mr. R. Edwin Shelton.
“The Honorary doctorate degree is the highest honor bestowed at Lees McRae College; a degree that is given in honor and recognition of distinguished service and dedication to higher education. Both Ed Hood and Ed Shelton have exemplified what true servant leadership looks like through their commitment to the College,” said Mr. Thomas H. Brigham, Jr., Chair of the Lees-McRae College Board of Trustees. “Because they have been so willing to give their time, talent, and treasures so generously, Lees- McRae is a better and stronger institution today. These gentlemen and their lovely wives are a true gift to Lees-McRae College, and we are so much better because of them.”
Mr. Deon Swart accepted the diploma of his late daughter, Carla Swart. Swart, a senior at Lees-McRae College, was killed in a cycling accident in South Africa in January. She was posthumously awarded an honorary degree in Business Administration: Management and Sport Management, Magna Cum Laude. Mr. Swart received a standing ovation from the crowd, which included Carla’s mother, Karen Swart, and sister, Lelanie Wilkinson.
Near the end of the ceremony, President Buxton honored two graduates with the H.C. Evans, Jr. Fidelity Award. Named after the late Dr. H. C. Evans, ninth president of Lees-McRae College, the Fidelity Award recognizes academic excellence, campus citizenship, friendliness, and service to the college and community. The recipient is selected by the graduates themselves, approved by the faculty and administration, and represents the highest ideals of the graduating class. Dr. Evans, after whom this award is now named, used to refer to the Fidelity Award recipient as “Mr. or Miss Lees-McRae College.” This year’s recipients truly model all of the characteristics of the Fidelity Award.
Sierra Phipps, an Elementary Education major from Fleetwood, NC, received the award for main campus students. Phipps is a Bonner Leader, a Peer Leader for Student Orientation programs, and a Peer Educator for many students on campus. She is actively involved in WOW (Worship on Wednesday), the Outdoor Programs Club and the International Club.
Cecil Greck, a Nursing major from Asheville, NC, received the award for extended campus students. He was described as a caring and compassionate individual who is always willing to assist others. A peer leader, role model for his colleagues, and active in the RN-BSN Student Government Association, one will also find Greck actively involved in church, outreach and community projects.
About the Speaker
Dr. Houck M. Medford has just completed his second career as Founder and CEO Emeritus of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation which was established in 1997 for the purpose of identifying and cultivating philanthropic support for the nation’s most visited national park — the Blue Ridge Parkway. Since its inception, the Foundation became a national model for endowment support of national park programs, social media advancements, and an innovator in outreach education for the next generation of Parkway supporters — our nation’s youth.
Growing up in Waynesville, NC, he was a third generation dentist. In his first career, he helped establish a new department of dentistry at Wake Forest University School of Medicine as its first faculty member, established a national teaching program in dental implant surgery and reconstruction, and was recognized in his specialty field with diplomat status by the American Board of Oral Implantology. He lectured internationally and is widely published in his specialty area of practice.
Dr. Medford received his Bachelor of Science degree from Wake Forest University in 1972 and his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from Emory University in 1976. He completed his hospital residency at Carolina Medical Center in Charlotte, NC and is a recent graduate of the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, NC.
About the Honorary Degree Recipients
Dr. Edward E. Hood, Jr., received Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in nuclear engineering from North Carolina State University. Dr. Hood served in the military as a United States Air Force officer from 1952 to 1956. He began his professional career working for the Garrett Corporation from 1956 to 1957. He joined General Electric Company in 1957 where he held several positions including vice president, group vice president, senior vice president and sector executive, vice chairman and executive officer, and member of the board of directors.
Dr. Hood was a trustee of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute from 1980 to 1995 and a trustee of North Carolina State University from 1996 to 2004. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering. Dr. Hood and his wife, Kay Transou Hood, reside in North Palm Beach, FL and Banner Elk.
Dr. R. Edwin “Ed” Shelton is co-owner of Shelton Vineyards, Inc., and a partner in The Shelton Companies, a private investment company located in Dobson, NC. He is an alumnus of Lees-McRae College, class of 1960, and an honorary alumnus of the class of 1995. In 2009, he and his wife, Dotti, were honored with the Founder’s Medal of Lees-McRae College. They reside in Dobson and Banner Elk.
Dr. Shelton is an entrepreneur in every sense of the word. He and his brother, Charlie, co-founded companies including The Shelton Companies of Charlotte, Shelco, Inc., Fortis Homes, King Sash, Carolinas’ Distribution Services, and most recently, Shelton Vineyards in Dobson, NC. The award-winning Shelton Vineyards, opened in 1999, is the largest family-owned estate winery in North Carolina. Dr. Shelton was also inducted into the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 2007.
Dr. Shelton has served on The North Carolina Economic Development Board, North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry, Board of Visitors for the Babcock School of Management at Wake Forest, Board of Trustees at Queens University and the Board of Directors of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, among others.