Wingate graduates 445
In the shade of the huge trees of Wingate University's academic quadrangle, the class of 2013 began a new chapter.
Of the 445 graduates, 90 received doctorates and 100 earned masters degrees. They came from 32 different states and 15 foreign countries.
The 117th Wingate University commencement honored former Cannon Foundation director Frank Davis and past Rockingham mayor G.R. Kindley with honorary degrees.
Wingate University President Jerry McGee introduced speaker John Kasay. McGee marveled that the three-hour NFL games between giant men who train for speed and strength can be decided by one man standing 5'9" and weighing half of what a teammate did.
When Wingate University announced the commencement speaker was the former Carolina Panthers kicker, McGee said he was flooded by compliments from people praising Kasay's integrity and career.
Kasay gave the audience three secrets.
The first was one he found after he invested years of work into making the Panthers a great team and Charlotte his home.
"I really tried to do everything I could to make people feel good about the Carolina Panthers," he said.
But with one phone call, he was off the team.
"That was really painful experience for me, when you pour so much into something and all of a sudden everything switches on you on a dime," he said.
After a time of wondering what to do next, the New Orleans Saints asked him to be their place kicker for the 2011 season. It felt strange to him because the Panthers played and won against the Saints many times before.
"I enjoyed kicking and I enjoyed playing, but the challenge for me was I used that as a vehicle to build relationships," he said. For 16 years, his life revolved around his teammates, Charlotte, his coaches and the fans. But in New Orleans, he had to start over.
But he took comfort in a minister's words he heard years earlier: "Bloom where you're planted."
He made new friendships, relied on new teammates, worked with new coaches and waved back at new fans.
"Getting involved, stepping out, it really is the secret to fulfillment," Kasay said. "It gives your life length."
The second secret is humility and being honest with oneself.
"We talk about virtues like honesty, hard work and excellence," he said. "But you know it's kind of a dying art, a dying virtue in our culture — being humble."
What they learned at Wingate will propel them higher in the workforce, but Kasay told them to remain approachable and tell the truth about themselves and others. Humility gives life breadth, he said.
And the third is perspective, which gives life depth. Every day, other forces try to distract us from what we set out to do, he said. Family, work, accidents. mistakes, challenges, folly and fatigue throws us off our goals.
But he warned graduates to find meaning in those distractions instead of dismissing them.
"The plan for dealing with these unplanned, unexpected interruptions and the secret to happiness in life is perspective," he said. "It has a lot to do with how well I adjust to the things that I did not expect to have happen.
"But remember, I don't know the future. The very thing that stopped my efforts may well be the thing that keeps me from making a huge mistake."