BOONE, N.C. — Despite two world wars and a crippling depression, Appalachian State University has never canceled a commencement ceremony during its 120-year history. This year is no exception — even when faced with the global coronavirus pandemic, Mountaineer resiliency has prevailed, making possible a historic virtual Spring 2020 Commencement.
More than 3,600 graduates — including 3,134 undergraduate and 517 graduate students — who have applied to receive their degrees in May and August will be recognized during the ceremony.
“It was unthinkable for us to consider canceling our May Commencement ceremony, especially with the available technology that is allowing faculty to continue teaching and engaging in research,” said Appalachian Chancellor Sheri Everts. “While we wish we could be together in the Holmes Convocation Center, our university’s historic first virtual commencement ceremony will be distinct and memorable.”
She continued, “We are looking forward to honoring our graduates, who have all worked incredibly hard and overcome significant obstacles to achieve this pinnacle of their academic careers. We will be with them, in their living rooms, kitchens, dining rooms and on their front porches, to celebrate their success.”
The virtual commencement, to take place Saturday, May 16, at 11 a.m., will be available on Appalachian’s commencement website. It will also be broadcast on the university’s student-run television station, AppTV. A permanent YouTube video link will be available after the event, allowing graduates to continue sharing the momentous occasion.
The name of each candidate who has registered for Spring 2020 Commencement will be read and displayed during the event. Prior to the virtual ceremony, graduates will have received, via mail, a commencement packet that includes a diploma cover and other items to celebrate, remember and share their achievement.
Additionally, May and August graduates will have the opportunity to participate in a special commencement ceremony to be held Friday, Dec. 11.
The event’s guest speaker is Appalachian alumnus Stephen J. Dubner ’84, an award-winning author, journalist and radio and TV personality who is best known as co-author of the “Freakonomics” book series. Dubner is the 2012 recipient of the Appalachian Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award.
“We are thrilled to welcome — virtually — Stephen home to Appalachian. I am certain his perspectives, always astute and insightful, will prove meaningful for our graduates and all who tune in to this special ceremony,” Everts said.
Two members of the graduating Class of 2020 will also speak:
- Ann Marie McNeely ’16, of Morganton, who will earn her Ed.D. in educational leadership.
- Olivia Gentry, of Weaverville, who will graduate with a B.S. in public health and a minor in social work.
About guest speaker Stephen J. Dubner
Stephen J. Dubner ’84 is an award-winning author, journalist and radio and TV personality. He is best known as co-author of the “Freakonomics” book series, which has sold more than 7 million copies in over 40 countries. He is also the host of “Freakonomics Radio,” which gets 8 million monthly downloads and airs on NPR stations and elsewhere.
“Freakonomics,” published in 2005, was an instant international bestseller and cultural phenomenon. “SuperFreakonomics” followed to similar acclaim in 2009, and in 2010 a documentary film version of “Freakonomics” was chosen as the closing film of the Tribeca Film Festival. “Think Like a Freak,” published in 2014, immediately took up a long residency atop the international bestseller lists and was followed by “When to Rob a Bank,” a collection of posts from the Freakonomics blog, which has been called “the most readable economics blog in the universe.”
Dubner has appeared widely on television, including as a regular contributor to ABC News and as host of the NFL Network’s “Football Freakonomics,” which was nominated for an Emmy.
His other books include “Turbulent Souls” (1998); “Confessions of a Hero-Worshiper” (2003); and the children’s book “The Boy With Two Belly Buttons” (2007). His journalism has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Time and elsewhere, and has been anthologized in The Best American Sports Writing, The Best American Crime Writing and others.
The eighth and last child of an upstate New York newspaperman, Dubner has been writing for a long time. (His first published work appeared, at age 11, in Highlights magazine.) As an undergraduate at Appalachian, he started a rock band that was signed to Arista Records, which landed him in New York City. He ultimately quit playing music to earn an MFA in writing at Columbia University, where he also taught in the English department. He worked at New York Magazine and The New York Times before launching his book and radio career.
Dubner, a former Chancellor's Scholar and Honors College student at Appalachian, is a graduate of the university’s B.S. in communication degree program. He lives in New York with his wife, the documentary photographer Ellen Binder, and their two children.
About the student speakers
Ann Marie McNeely ’16, of Morganton, is graduating from Appalachian with an Ed.D. in educational leadership. She holds an A.A. from Western Piedmont Community College (WPCC), a B.A. and an M.A. in English from the University of Central Florida and an Ed.S. in higher education from Appalachian.
McNeely currently serves as WPCC’s dean of arts and sciences, a position she has held since 2009. Previously, she taught college-level composition, literature and communications at community colleges and universities for 13 years and was a freelance writer and editor in the textbook market for seven years. In addition to composition textbooks, she has published poetry, essays and magazine articles.
McNeely said she became an educator because she believes “a quality education elevates us all,” and contributing to human growth and development makes her life meaningful. She said her professors at Appalachian inspired her to view her studies through a social justice lens — which will forever impact the way she moves through and responds to the world.
Honors College senior Olivia Gentry, of Weaverville, is graduating from Appalachian with honors. She will earn her B.S. in public health with a minor in social work, both of which are offered by Appalachian’s Beaver College of Health Sciences (BCHS).
The 4.0 GPA graduate and BCHS Dean’s Scholar — whom Appalachian’s public health program faculty described as “smart, thoughtful, passionate and a fantastic advocate” — said she was inspired to pursue the field of public health by her mother, who has worked in the field for numerous years.
While attending Buncombe High School in Weaverville, Gentry was part of a group called Youth Educators and Advocates for Health, and she continued her passion for health advocacy at Appalachian by participating in the Department of Wellness and Prevention’s WE CAN (Wellness Educators for Change, Advocacy and Student Needs) program.
After graduation, Gentry plans to spend a year volunteering with AmeriCorps or a similar group before applying to Master of Public Health programs.
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About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives. App State is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, with a national reputation for innovative teaching and opening access to a high-quality, affordable education for all. The university enrolls more than 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and 80 graduate majors at its Boone and Hickory campuses and through App State Online. Learn more at https://www.appstate.edu.