There was celebration and remembrance at Catawba College's Commencement Exercises on May 11. Three graduates and one alumnus received awards during the two ceremonies, while one student who died just five credit hours away from completing the coursework for his bachelor's degree was honored with a special tribute.
Whitener Award Recipients
Two students graduating from the traditional day program, Chelsea Michele Starr of Weston Fla., and Blake Richey Rushing of Indian Trail, were the recipients of Catawba's Whitener Awards.
The prestigious Whitener Awards have been presented each year at the graduation ceremony since 1927. They are given in memory of Dr. Edgar Whitener of High Point, North Carolina, who served as a trustee of Catawba College from 1921 to 1966 and as Chairman of the Board of Trustees from 1925 to 1944. The medals honor a man and woman in the graduating class who embody, to a high degree, the qualities of good character, leadership, and scholarship. Recipients are nominated, with final selections made by the faculty.
Starr majored in elementary education and minored in English and Spanish. Although she had a stellar academic career, she found time to be active outside of the classroom. She was involved with Campus Crusades, serving as one of that organization's officers and leading a prayer group on campus every week. She was active in the Students North Carolina Association of Educators, serving it as vice president. She was a tutor on campus in both Spanish and in the College Writing Center and was a student in the College Honors Program. She served on the Student Conduct Board and the Appellate Board. She managed the Lilly Center Coffee House, was a participant in the College's Alpha program, and also was involved with various honor societies, including Phi Epsilon where she served as president, Sigma Tau Delta, Phi Sigma Iota, Kappa Delta Pi, and Phi Lambda.
Rushing was a chemistry major and a biology minor who was also very involved in the life of the college. He participated in the College Honors Program and also served as a tutor in the College Writing Center. He served as a resident assistant. He was active in Catawba's student chapter of the American Chemical Society, serving as its president, and also in Gamma Sigma Epsilon, where he also served as president. He was a member of Alpha Chi honor society, and a member of Tri-Beta, the biology honor society. His service in the community included work on Habitat for Humanity building projects and volunteering at Rowan Helping Ministries.
Barbara Andrews Award Recipient
A graduate from Catawba's School of Evening and Graduate Studies, Vera L. Drye of Concord was the recipient of the Barbara Andrews Award.
This award is given each year to the graduating senior in the School of Evening and Graduate Studies who most successfully embodies the attributes of character, leadership and scholarship. This award was established and named in honor of Barbara Andrews, the first director of this Program at Catawba College. The selection is made by the Catawba College faculty from the six graduating seniors in the program with the highest grade point averages. Students eligible are those who have attended Catawba for at least two years and have earned a cumulative grade point average of at least a 3.5.
Drye received her Bachelor of Business Administration degree with a business management concentration at the 2 p.m. commencement exercise. She began taking courses toward her degree in August of 2010 and completed her requirements this past December. She had earned her Associate's degree in Accounting from Central Piedmont Community College in 1976.
She worked in human resources for Philip Morris in Concord for 20 years until that plant closed. She is now employed as a human resources analyst at Rowan Cabarrus Community College.
A member of Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honor society for nontraditional students, she is an active member of St. John's Lutheran Church in Concord where she serves as a Sunday school teacher.
She is married to husband, Steve, a 1971 alumnus of Catawba, and they are parents of three adult children and grandparents of three.
O.B. Michael Award Recipient
A 1961 Catawba College alumnus, Dr. William Guy Rich of Dahlgren, Virginia, was the recipient of the O. B. Michael Award. This award has been presented annually since 1938 by the Catawba College Board of Directors of the Alumni Association. It is given to a graduate of the College who has made an outstanding contribution to the College and/or the larger society. Originally called the Citizenship Cup, it was established by the Reverend O.B. Michael, Class of 1919, in memory of his father, an alumnus of Catawba College and pioneer teacher and preacher.
While a student at Catawba, Dr. Rich majored in physics and was on the track team. He went on to earn his master's degree from Wake Forest University and a doctorate from the College of William and Mary.
A native of Laurinburg, North Carolina, he taught at Elon College for three years before joining the Naval Surface Warfare Center in 1972. His assignments at the Center included work on the AEGIS Combat System, which is used in the AEGIS class ship that figured highly in the Persian Gulf War. He coordinated the Scientist-to-Sea Program for the center and received Sustained Superior Performance Awards multiple years. Today, he is retired from the Naval Surface Warfare Center as an electronics engineer.
Dr. Rich spearheaded a campaign to establish an endowed scholarship at Catawba in 1987 in memory of two leading professors at the college: Dr. Antonios Antonakos, chair of the physics department from 1959-1975, and Dr. Milton Braun, professor of physics and mathematics from 1931-1955. With his generosity and his prompting of these professors' former students, the scholarship has grown and split into two fully funded First Family Scholarships. One project on his current to-do list is to grow the Catawba Class of 1961 Scholarship that he and his classmates help establish to the First Family level.
Special Recognition for Travis Ward Casper
The College paid a special tribute to the late Travis Ward Casper, a student who was on track to be part of the 2013 graduation ceremony until he lost a lengthy battle with cancer. Casper, 27, of Salisbury, died on March 26th of this year.
Travis' brother, Brandon Casper, represented the family and accepted an Honorary Bachelor of Business Administration degree on behalf of his brother. Catawba College President Brien Lewis made the degree presentation on what would have been Travis Casper's 28th birthday, calling it "a tribute and memorial."
Lewis said Travis "was the type of young man we were proud to call our student and he would have been the type of young man who we would have been proud to call an alumnus of this college. Today we remember him for his scholarship, character, culture and service and through his example remind ourselves of the persons we want to strive to be."
Born May 11, 1985 in Rowan County, he was the son of Donald Casper and John and Ruth Morehead of Salisbury. He was a 2003 graduate of East Rowan High School and attended Rowan Cabarrus Community College before transferring to Catawba's School of Evening and Graduate Studies. During his three years at Catawba, he was twice named to the Dean's List.
He was a very dedicated student and faced his fight with cancer with courage. He had stopped by to see Dr. Edith Bolick, Dean of the School of Evening & Graduate Studies, to tell her about his health situation last spring. He told her that he knew a lot of his classmates were dealing with difficult things in their lives and he did not want special treatment. He refused her offer to allow him to complete his coursework off-site, saying he would come back and earn it. His GPA was 3.829, with 115 credit hours applied toward his bachelor of business administration degree, only five credit hours short of graduating.
He worked at Rowan County Airport and Stoudemire Furniture prior to his illness. He logged many flight hours as a student pilot and was an ardent fitness devotee. He was also an avid video gamer.
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