“This is only the beginning, not the retirement of learning,” Mars Hill University Provost John Omachonu told the university’s 71 candidates for graduation. “That’s why today is called commencement; commencement means the beginning, not the end.”
Omachonu was the keynote speaker for the university’s commencement ceremony for August and December graduates, held Friday, December 14 in Moore Auditorium. He used his life’s story as a Nigerian immigrant who came to the United States in 1975 to become the first in his family to attend college, and the struggles on his 12-year journey to earn his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, to encourage the Mars Hill graduates to persevere in the face of adversity.
“It’s not where you started, but where you finish,” he said. He challenged them to have faith in God and themselves, to build a support network of family and positive friends, to find mentors and to surround themselves with people who are already where they want to be, to never stop learning, to be humble, and to give back and help others achieve their dreams.
The provost’s comments echoed those of the two student speakers, each of whom shared stories of struggles and the support systems which helped them persevere.
Pamela Suber of Hendersonville, North Carolina, recounted some of the 51 things she said could have prevented her from earning her bachelor of social work degree at age 51 — things like a 13-month battle with ovarian cancer and another three months of thyroid issues during her final year of college. After early struggles upon beginning her collegiate career in 2015, she realized that, “Mars Hill was more than a source of education; it had become a source of community.”
“Fifty-one things could have stopped me,” she said. “But today it is those 51 things that have pushed me even farther than I could have ever imagined.”
Selin Talay, a native of Ankara, Turkey, told of her own struggles and how her Mars Hill experience helped her overcome them. As a student for whom English is not her first language, she had struggled after coming to America to study.
But in the midst of the challenges, a teacher helped change her perspective. Although she had failed the math class, she said the teacher told her she would change the world. “Instead of seeing just that bad grade,” she said, “he saw my progress.”
The December commencement was the first Mars Hill University graduation ceremony for President Tony Floyd, who arrived in June. It also was the first for Provost Omachonu, who began work at Mars Hill in August. Both administrators urged the graduates to return to Mars Hill and to help bring perspectives and experiences that will help the university continue to thrive.