The week after Commencement, we shared a video showing some of the event highlights from the perspective of students and the audience. But today, we want to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the ceremony from the point of view of two people who helped make the event happen: Ajeenah Nuriddin Little, Dean of Student Support Services, and Shannon Begley, Assistant Dean of Academic Advising and Registrar.
Shannon and Ajeenah joined Sara Nugent, a blogger for Peirce Connections, for a Q&A session where they talked graduation preparation, advice for the graduates, and more!
Sara: Hi! I’m Sara Nugent, a blogger for Peirce Connections. I’m joined by Ajeenah Nuriddin-Little, Student Support Services, Assistant Dean, and Shannon Begley, Academic Advising and Registrar, Assistant Dean. Today, we’re going to be recapping the college’s 149th Commencement Ceremony. Shannon and Ajeenah, thank you so much for being here today.
Ajeenah: You’re welcome, thank you for having us.
Shannon: You’re welcome.
Sara: So tell me, how has Peirce College’s class of 2014 impacted each of your lives? Are there any particular student success stories that you’d like to share with us?
Ajeenah: Sure -- I can kick it off. There are many stories that don’t always get highlighted in the media. I think for Shannon and I, who work with students very closely, we have the stories that really hit home. One of my students, Jasmine Daniels Pew, really experienced a lot of obstacles while taking classes here at Peirce. To see her walk across the stage and to be able to meet her husband and to see her daughter, those are the stories that really resonate with me. Those are the things that kind of excite us during commencement ceremony.
Shannon: I have to agree. I mean, I loved hearing all the stories, their experiences, and how they got to where they are today. We do have a lot of grads that have overcome some real challenges in their lives and so it’s been really great to see their progression and then finally reach their goals. I don’t know that there’s a specific story that I can think of offhand that really touched me, but I just feel like all of the stories, I guess, in some way have inspired me to think about my own life or my own need to thank my friends and family for where I’ve gotten, and I think our students remind us too that we need to ask for help when we need it, and that we need to make sure that we have that support system.
Sara: Yeah. That’s a great reminder. And from being at the Commencement ceremony myself, I know that the Peirce staff and faculty has definitely been that support for a lot of the students this year too. So, what were the most popular graduating majors this year? I know Business Administration was up there, but what were some of the other most popular ones?
Shannon: Our other two popular majors are our Information Technology and Paralegal Studies. They have been staples for Peirce studies for some time. The other programs are more recent.
Sara: Next I want to talk a little bit about the honor that the college had of hosting Miss Matlock-Turner. What did you think about her as the keynote speaker, and what were some key takeaway messages that you think are important for students to remember to take from her speech?
Ajeenah: Sure. I think the message that Miss Matlock-Turner delivered to the students really just talked about embracing this journey and embracing all of those obstacles and those challenges and welcoming those because they make you a stronger and better person. I also think part of her speech talked about the real student story. She had an opportunity to attend the luncheon with the awardees and she really was able to kind of listen to them, hear their stories, and really talk about the support that they received from the institution so I thought it was great that she was able to kind of highlight those student stories within her own message to the audience.
Shannon: Yes, I agree. I was thinking about the personal touch that she had with the different stories and the fact that she really made her speech about our students and showed that she truly can relate to them and our population, that she understood that we are serving the adult learner and so I think it was great to see her speech really tie into what we truly are here at Peirce College.
Sara: So, in your opinion, what was the most memorable part or parts of the day?
Ajeenah: Okay. So, I had an opportunity to really work very closely with the awardees as well as the student speaker, Kathlyn, and so I was just, to be quite honest, I was just so proud of Kathlyn and how she delivered the message about time and to take your time. And so, I just thought her message to the students was great. I also thought, really for me, the resounding kind of energy was when, towards the end, President Mergiotti, called all the students up. He called all the students from the stage to come stand with him, right next to him. And when they turned that tassel from right to left, the energy that kind of exuded the building at that point, to me, was one of those moments where I thought, “This is why we do our job and this is why we work with students. Just to be on stage and see that was amazing for me.
Shannon: I think also, obviously, Marine Corporal Paul Robinson surprising his mom, Tondaleya Robinson, was very emotional. I had chills, and I was shaking and it was great to be able to stand there -- particularly right next to him -- and see the genuine reaction that she had. So, that was incredible. I think, for me, this was the first year that I’ve been a part of commencement the way that I have so to be able to be on stage dressed in cap and gown and handing out the diplomas and shaking the hands of all of our grads was very memorable to me. It was just great to be able to honor the grads in this way that I had not gotten to do in the past.
Sara: Yeah, I definitely think that the surprise was one of the highlights of the night, but just from the perspective of you guys actually being onstage and getting to be so close to it, it’s definitely interesting to hear how raw and real the emotion was, and I think that resonated all the way towards the back of the hall. And, I have to ask you guys: Did you know about the surprise ahead of time, did the faculty know about it?
Shannon: There were a select few of us that knew. Corporal Robinson had reached out to one of our other staff members, Melinda, on Friday and of course, we got so excited. We started planning. And then, it looked like he wasn’t actually going to be able to attend. And then, Monday morning he got the official “yes” from his chain of command. So, about five of us quickly got everything in order and made it happen so that he could do this and it was great. I talked to him and his mother afterwards as well and they were both so grateful and so excited that we were able to all make this happen. I think it was great. I think it’s a moment that nobody’s ever going to forget.
Ajeenah: Just to add to that. It was funny because, again, I was working with the awardees and I had to make sure everyone sat in the correct seat and it was interesting because I had to have Tondaleya sit at the end and she asked, “Is there any reason why I’m the last person in the row?” And I said “No, absolutely not!” And there was a free seat next to her so she didn’t know -- she just thought it was just an empty seat. So she really was surprised and it was great to see her reaction. She obviously had no idea but she was asking.
Sara: Did you guys experience any nerves prior that maybe she was going to take a different seat, or that Corporal Robinson wasn’t going to end up being in the right place at the right time, or, what was that like leading up to it?
Ajeenah: Because Shannon and I work very closely together every day, for eight to 10 hours a day, we talked frequently about it. So, between us, there definitely was a whole lot of nerves just in terms of how we were feeling. We didn’t know if it was going to go off. We were hoping that he would get here on time. I know from being particularly worried about the seating, and because I was actually on stage and I was after the seniors, I thought, “Oh good, I hope they sat in the right seats and I hope everything is okay!” You know, all you can do is just hope it all works out well.
Ajeenah: I mean, you’ve given the right directive, so you’re just happy that it ended well. A lot of nerves!
Sara: Yeah. It really could not have gone off better and it was without a hitch. It looked completely effortless – and so that’s definitely a tribute to your planning. What advice do you guys have for Peirce’s recent graduates? Now that they’re alumnus, what resources are available to them now that they can utilize out in the workforce?
Shannon: I think really just utilizing our career services that we have here on campus in the Career Development Services office, and attending alumni events. They have a lot of different networking events which is huge. I mean, that really gets students, especially if they’re career changers, to get to meet other people who are already in the industry. They also tet to meet Peirce alums who have been where they are and are now out in that industry. So, it’s really staying involved and making sure they keep those connections that they built.
Ajeenah: Yeah. I would just add to that and just say now that they’ve earned their associate’s degree, particularly for those students that have earned their bachelor’s degree, if they’re still unsure, they’ll want to stay connected to the institution. It’s a great way to look at our master’s degree program and if they’re interested in the graduate program, continuing their education is also an option. So, this is just another resource for them.
Sara: Okay. And on the other side of the coin, what advice would you give to incoming Peirce students or just college students in general that might be listening today.
Ajeenah: I think I would say, for any incoming student coming in and particularly for me, I work with new students during the student orientation, there’s a huge component of understanding the resources that are available to you as a Peirce student. Really learning what those resources are. Learning what the expectations are of the institution in terms of being a college student. And I think more importantly, because this is a lifelong investment, learning what that really means to you and how you can personalize this journey and how you can really take advantage of the opportunities available to you.
Shannon: I think getting involved is huge here, particularly with being a non-traditional school and not having on-campus living. I think at times students might not feel that full-connection that you would at a traditional school if you’re living on campus. But, there are so many ways to get involved through the Walker Center, through different events that are being held on campus as well as the career services, and alumni events that we invite students to as well. Another big one is managing time. Figuring out what type of time you’re going to need. Creating that plan and going with it. And also, letting go of some of that pride that can be a barrier. Figuring out when you need help and asking for it. Continuing to communicate with those that are here at the college. We certainly want to see everyone succeed and so we’re going to do whatever we can to help make that happen.
Sara: Alright. Is there anything else that you’d like to add about Commencement 2014 that we haven’t talked about?
Shannon: I got a different perspective this year from being on-stage as opposed to out in the audience. I usually would just get to kind of see the stage party. This year, I really got to see the faces of the students, and so as Ajeenah already touched on, Kate’s speech was great because I saw a lot of heads nodding in agreement with her. So I think, you didn’t have to be a graduate to relate to what she was saying. You didn’t have to be in the class of 2014. You could have been anyone in that audience from our Board of Trustees to student family members to faculty and staff. So, I thought that was great that we all could relate to that and just looking out at all of the students and the families and just seeing the smiles and the excitement that was on everyone’s face was just, it was such a feel-good moment. I got chills throughout the entire night just looking out at everyone.
Ajeenah: And I would say just to add to that from Shannon’s perspective of now being on the committee and really seeing all the intricate workings of Commencement and what it looks like and to really, at the end, when the song “Happy” was played, and you just see these students just celebrating from someone who works with the students every day and you hear their struggles, you hear their hardships, you see the crying, and you see the successes. I’m quite sure I’m speaking for Shannon, it really resonates in terms of why we do what we do every day and why we work so hard for these students because it’s those moments that we really just take a lot of pride in and we’re just happy for them so the song “Happy” was ideal, spot-on, the students walked out with their families just smiling and from where we sit, we couldn’t ask for anything more.
Shannon: Yeah, definitely.
Sara: Yes, and I know that when we spoke with Sharmain for the blog a couple of weeks ahead of commencement, one of her biggest pieces of advice for the graduates was to just celebrate and enjoy and I thought that “Happy” was a perfect choice. And I definitely think that the class of 2014 took her advice to heart because it was a great feeling in the room that night.
Sara: Alright, Shannon and Ajeenah, thank you again so much for being here with us.