Classes of 2016 and 1966 Celebrate Commencement

After more than 50 years, Bryant “Pete” Paris ’66 finally got a chance to participate in commencement at East Carolina University earlier this month.

Paris was one of 14 graduates of the class of 1966 who participated in the Golden Alumni Reunion hosted by the East Carolina Alumni Association on May 5-6, 2016. The 50th reunion class donned gold robes and led the class of 2016 into commencement ceremonies in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

“I didn’t get to walk in 1966, so I was thrilled to finally put on a cap and gown,” said Paris. He was supposed to complete his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1965, but was just a few credits short. He started working full-time at the NC Medical Society while finishing his courses, and a travel assignment prevented him from participating in the next year’s ceremony.

In addition to commencement, about 25 total participants including family members participated in other activities like tours of campus and a special reception and champagne toast with the class of 2016, co-hosted by the Pirate Club. Paris, who lives in Raleigh, drove in for just the graduation ceremony.

“I loved being there,” said Paris. “It was a treat to see some faces I hadn’t seen in 50 years, and some I didn’t recognize. We told stories and had a wonderful time. I really enjoyed it.”

Paris also took pride in watching his niece, Kinsey “Palmer” Watson, graduate with the class of 2016.

“It was so special and neat knowing my uncle was a part of the commencement ceremony with me, as a 50 year graduate,” Watson said. “I know not many people share their graduation with a relative who is celebrating their 50th anniversary, so it made the day that much more special.”

Watson says she fell in love with the ECU campus the day she first visited. “The campus was so beautiful and homey feeling!” she commented. “Graduation was a very bittersweet feeling. I am not quite ready to leave behind the home away from home I have created during my time at ECU, but I am excited for what the future holds!”

Paris knows the feeling well. “I have a lot of fond memories there. I told Palmer [who had been considering UNC-Chapel Hill] that once you go to East Carolina, you won’t want to leave. You can’t help loving it.”

Originally from Alamance County, Paris came to ECU after serving four years in the Air Force, mostly at Langley Air Force Base. Paris said he chose ECU because “I wanted to focus on learning, but when I wasn’t learning, I wanted to have fun.”

Paris went on to work for the NC Medical Society for about seven years, and then spent more than 25 years with the NC Medical Board, a separate entity, before retiring in 1999. He says his experience at ECU prepared his well for his career.

“I believe I got an excellent education at East Carolina,” Paris said. “It fit me to a T.”

Click here for more photos from the Golden Alumni Reunion.

Click here for a video about Senior Celebration.

By Jackie Drake

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Commencement Memories

LarryBryantStarrLewisThe memories of graduation from East Carolina University are still fresh for Larry ’64 and Starr ’65 Lewis, since they participated in commencement both 50 years ago and again this past May.

Larry and Starr participated in the Golden Alumni Reunion, held every spring by the East Carolina Alumni Association. During commencement, members of the 50th reunion class lead the processional of current graduates into Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

“It was a very special opportunity to reconnect with the people and places we were so familiar with,” Starr said. “We had a grand time. It was exhilarating to be there during commencement.”

“We’re so thankful that East Carolina gave us this chance to participate in the current life of the university,” Larry said.

Commencement was even more special for Larry and Starr this year because they got to watch their grandson graduate. Bryant Lewis earned a bachelor of science in criminal justice.

“Having them at the ceremony was a great experience, and I know not many people get that opportunity,” Bryant said. “My dad and my mom’s dad also went to ECU, so it was definitely a positive influence on my decision to attend.”

“I’m so glad that Bryant and all the other students got to share in the joy of ECU,” Starr said.

While Larry and Starr have been able to visit fairly often throughout the years, they loved touring campus and seeing all the progress that has been made.

“All the growth that’s been happening on campus is tremendous,” Larry says. “And I love what’s happening downtown as well. I can’t wait to see the university and the city continue to improve and work together.”

50 Years of Pirate Pride & History: Hubert Walters ’65

HubertsWaltersOne of East Carolina’s first African-American male graduates is returning to campus this spring to celebrate 50 years of Pirate pride – and history.

Hubert Walters ’65, a retired professor of black music who has taught at Harvard University and Boston College, is one of several alumni planning to attend the Golden Alumni Reunion for the class of 1965, hosted by the East Carolina Alumni Association.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from North Carolina Central University in 1955, Walters taught high school and served in the military before coming to East Carolina College for his master’s degree in music once integration began.

“ECU opened their doors to black students,” Walters recalled. “I was amazed and encouraged that East Carolina had done what many others had not.”

Though he could not attend at first, the East Carolina campus was familiar territory for Walters, who is originally from Greenville. His mother and some other family members worked at ECU, and his music teacher had brought his class for a visit. The first black students were allowed to enroll in 1962, and Walters started in the summer of 1963.

“I was anxious to get going,” Walters said. “I had the desire and the will to succeed. I felt I could complete the work. I knew I could afford it, and Greenville was my home.”

Being one of the first African-American students was “quite an experience,” he said. “I had no problems. I didn’t feel isolated or lonely at all. I became very close with one music professor, Tom Miller; he was very positive. I had no difficulty with any of my professors, but he really stands out.”

Miller, a graduate of Boston College, provided contacts and helped Walters get established in Boston. Walters was a charter member of the Afro-American Studies Department at Harvard University, and he taught at Boston College for more than 20 years. He also served as director of the Boston College Voices of Imani gospel choir, which performed at ECU in the early 2000s.

Though he has been back to campus before, the ’65 reunion will be a special opportunity for Walters to reflect on both the past and the future.

“It’s an honor to be part of a historic movement that opened doors for all members of mankind. Times have changed, but we must continue to move forward,” he said. “I had a good experience at East Carolina. It’s great to be a Pirate. I certainly am very excited to attend the Golden Alumni Reunion. I would encourage other ’65 graduates to attend.”

The Golden Alumni Reunion will be held May 7-8, 2015.

By Jackie Drake