“I could just go to school and that was like my place,” said Bevers, now a junior at Western Carolina University. “For me, school was normal and I was normal at school. I didn’t have to think about what was going on at home. It gave me something to distract myself. It was something I was good at.”
As a senior at Forest View High School in Gastonia, Marcy Sammons had her eye on Western Carolina University. She'd heard good things about WCU's College of Business, but perhaps even more importantly, WCU had the best Marching Band in the state and one of the best in the nation. Sammons led the Color Guard at Forest View, and she'd heard stories about WCU's 2014 trip to march in the Macy's Day Parade. She was a high school junior at the time. But when senior year rolled around, the cost of a four-year university simply wasn't an option for Sammons or her family. She was going to need to borrow the money she would need to attend school, and the thought of finishing a marketing degree with significant college debt was overwhelming.
As Gabriel Pope was looking at schools to transfer to from Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, he learned of an upcoming program the state of North Carolina was implementing called NC Promise. At first, Pope was a little skeptical over whether the state would follow through with offering $500 per semester tuition. But once he was convinced, Pope knew he wanted to go to Western Carolina University. “I was a little concerned with how the education would be with the school bringing in less money, but the more I learned about it, and researched it, the more I knew (WCU) was going to be a great school to go to,” Pope said. “I’m really thankful for (NC Promise) because it really helps me financially to be able to get my education.”
Earning an associate degree from Southwestern Community College after transferring there from Mars Hill, and a bachelor’s degree from Western Carolina University, where he graduated in December and gave the commencement address. He’ll continue his education in the fall at WCU, where he is enrolled in the school’s master’s degree program in social work. A member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Blythe is believed to be the first Native American to give a commencement speech at WCU — an unexpected honor that left him in awe and “like the weight of the world” was on his shoulders — but in a good way.
As an assistant professor of biochemistry, Western Carolina University’s Jamie Wallen sees himself as part chemist, part biologist. Perhaps, that’s why it’s no coincidence many of his research projects are collaborations with those from both fields. Wallen believes the ability to learn research skills in both biology and chemistry gives his students an added edge when it comes to pursuing doctorates or moving onto their careers.
On a recent Wednesday evening, patients reviewed their progress since the last clinic before being treated. A cancer survivor with ambulatory challenges was patiently encouraged through a series of exercises, along with plenty of smiles upon completion of each task. Nearby, Swain County resident Delphia Birchfield watched a relative she had transported to the clinic begin his session. “This is an answered prayer,” Birchfield said. “Without it, I don’t know what kind of condition he’d be in right now, how he could cope. And he looks forward to it. You can see it with his interaction with the students. He’s treated as an individual, gets a level of attention and has made real progress. This clinic is a blessing.”
Jennifer Le’An Yoe-Gaddy, a graduate student receiving her master’s degree in social work, was the featured speaker for the 2018 Graduate School Commencement on Friday, May 11. The Weaverville resident spoke to her fellow graduating students about the circuitous route she took in earning her associate and bachelor’s degrees and said she had intended to speak to them about how to persevere in life. “We all have our stories,” she said. “Our stories, and the stories of all the graduates in this room, are certainly all unique, but undoubtedly we share one vital characteristic. We have grit, and it is your possession of this characteristic that is worthy of a sincere congratulations this evening.”