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Commencement Tip Sheet

For immediate use 

May 10, 2005 -- No. 229

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s spring commencement will be at 9:30 a.m. Sunday (May 15) in Kenan Stadium. Following are human interest story ideas connected to this year's commencement, with contact phone numbers for pursuing each one:

Pep band pals stick together,
kindergarten to commencement

Tyler Amos, Sean Key and Brent Weatherman of Greensboro have been friends since kindergarten at Laughlin Primary School. Together they progressed through Summerfield Elementary, Northwest Middle and Northwest High schools, and UNC.

Will Stanley joined the trio in ninth grade. The four tooted their horns in the UNC Pep Band and the Marching Tar Heels throughout their four years at Carolina – at nearly every football game and men’s basketball home and tournament game. "I’ve loved Carolina all my life," Key said, speaking for all four, and their parents.

In the bands, "You get to go to a lot of places most students don’t get to see," he said. "Traveling and intermingling with the teams is a pretty good experience. (The band) has helped me get a lot more out of college. Plus, all the free basketball games don’t hurt, either."

Stanley admits he joined the bands to make sure he got to every home men’s game. As seniors now, the guys have shared the same agony-to-ecstasy experience so widely publicized for senior team members.

"My whole life it had been Carolina basketball being Carolina basketball, but then we got here and it was the worst year we’d ever had," Stanley said. "But it was worth sticking with it (until this year) when we won the whole thing."

This year’s Final Four will forever be one of the most treasured memories bonding the four friends. At the final buzzer, "we all pretty much just exploded," Stanley said. "Everybody jumped up and went crazy. It was really surreal to be there after watching it for so many years on television."

The boys in the band didn’t rub elbows much with the team members, given separate agendas for each group. Still, Stanley said, "Flying on the team charter was definitely something that most people don’t get to experience. It was pretty cool."

After commencement, the four will separate for the first time in most of their lives. Amos, a computer science major, will work at Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro. Of the other three, all exercise and sport science majors, Key hopes to attend physical therapy training. Stanley will head for dental school at Virginia Commonwealth University. Weatherman will be a Greensboro city firefighter.

"I guess it is the first time Brent, Sean and I haven’t been together since we were 5 or so," Amos said. "It’s sad, in a way, but we don’t have to be in the same area to be friends. If we’ve stayed friends this long, we might as well keep it going."

Amos can be reached at 919-914-8243 or amost@email.unc.edu; Key, at 919-914-6651 or seke@email.unc.edu; and Stanley and Weatherman, at 919-914-6094 or wstanley@email.unc.edu and brentw@email.unc.edu. For more information, contact Jeff Fuchs, director, University Bands, at jfuchs@email.unc.edu. For more background, contact L.J. Toler, UNC News Services, 919-962-8589.

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Mother, daughter, nursing grads,
survive hardships to finish school

While Heather Fund and her mother, Teresa Cramer, were in nursing school, their family experienced one stroke, one cerebral hemorrhage, two deaths, one serious car accident, tight finances and innumerable lengthy commutes.

But they never quit. This month, both will become registered nurses – Fund with a degree from UNC, and Cramer, from the Watts School of Nursing in Durham. Their family will attend three ceremonies in a week’s time: Saturday (May 14) at UNC’s School of Nursing, Sunday in Kenan Stadium for the UNC-wide commencement, and May 20 for the Watts school at the United Pentecostal Church in Durham.

"I wish I had a finish line to run over," said Fund, 22, a smile in her voice.

Fund’s biological father left when she was six months old. When she was 3, her mother re-married. Fund was flower girl. Chuck Cramer’s son, Charlie, had grown and gone, but soon a new son, Jason, came along. Fund simply calls them her Dad and her brothers.

Fund enrolled at UNC in 2000, after high school, but lived at home in Fuquay-Varina to save money. Besides her one- to two-hour commute, she managed 30 hours of part-time work each week. Some of her earnings helped pay tuition; she saved the rest, hoping to be able to move to Chapel Hill.

Meanwhile, Teresa Cramer was laid off from the company where she had worked for 17 years. A biology degree holder, she decided to attend nursing school. First, she enrolled in Durham Technical Community College for a prerequisite. Then came the disastrous spring of 2002.

Cramer’s mother died. Then her father suffered a disabling stroke on the same day that Cramer had a cerebral hemorrhage. It was their birthday.

Cerebral hemorrhages are fatal for about half of all victims, Cramer said; of the survivors, about half suffer serious disability. She was in the lucky quarter, recovered in just a few weeks.

Until then, Fund and her father scrambled to study, work, commute and heat and serve meals brought by their church members. They drove Jason to his activities. As Cramer improved, Fund brought her mother’s work home from Durham Tech and took her completed assignments back.

Fund, then in her second year at Carolina, had been on the verge of moving out. Instead, Cramer said, "She decided to stay at home and help me, for a year. That’s how good and giving she is."

Cramer enrolled in Watts on schedule in July 2002. But Charlie was "crushed," Fund said, in a car accident. "They didn’t know if he’d ever walk again," she said. But he walks now, albeit with a limp.

Last August, Cramer’s father died. She said she and her daughter "have grieved so much, and we have gotten through this because we are both survivors."

In Fund’s last two years at UNC, she received four scholarships through the university and the nursing school. With those and her savings, she was able to drop her part-time workload to five hours a week and finally move to Chapel Hill, giving her more time to study.

A nurses’ assistant for the past year at UNC Hospitals, Fund will begin work there on July 5 as a registered nurse; Cramer, a nurses’ assistant at Durham Regional Hospital, soon will work there as an RN. Both will be in surgery intensive care units.

"Heather and I have always been and remain the very best of friends," Cramer said. "We trust each other more than anyone in the world."

One of the traditions at UNC’s nursing school is that graduates choose special people in their lives to attach their nursing pins during commencement. Fund chose her mother.

"She’s the first and only one I would ask to do it," Fund said. "It’s kind of a bond, because she understands what is required to do this."

Heather Fund and Teresa Cramer at tcramer007@aol.com.

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McCarty’s post-graduation plans
will take him to Bogota – and bike lanes

David "Mac" McCarty’s hometown of Alpharetta, Ga., is about 25 miles from Atlanta, a city that includes what the AAA recently named one of the worst commuter "hot spots" in the nation and is known for its myriad traffic "challenges."

And next year, through a Fulbright scholarship he recently received, McCarty will study transportation issues in a city that has created one of the most progressive systems worldwide to handle its own challenges: Bogota, Colombia.

McCarty, an environmental studies major with a concentration in sustainable infrastructure, recently received a Fulbright scholarship to spend a year studying city and regional planning at the University of Los Andes in Bogota. He leaves in July.

Among the many initiatives Bogota has put in place to alleviate traffic congestion is the developing world’s most extensive bicycle path network.

"Basically, the reason I chose Bogota is that the city has undertaken policies that are pretty progressive and have seen real progress," McCarty said. "Most of them are transportation-oriented, but all have revolutionized the city as a world leader in sustainable ways to manage growth."

McCarty, who also will have a minor in city planning when he graduates, became interested in issues such as these through his one-time focus on becoming an architect. "I loved the built environment and how people interact in it."

He took classes in city and regional planning at UNC and found that what he learned sparked an interest in how cities create an effective infrastructure. He took courses in environmental studies and learned in what ways cities influence the state of the environment and health and well being of the cities’ residents.

"I think the most remarkable thing about Colombia is that they made all of these changes that we haven’t been able to tackle, with a third-world budget and unrest. How huge of an accomplishment that is. We need to, in our own country, find ways that work and create the community we all want but are having such trouble building."

McCarty said he is unsure of his plans after returning to the United States next year – but they will definitely focus on working to make cities more sustainable.

McCarty can be reached at mccarty@email.unc.edu.

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Following the ceremony,
one line at a time

When UNC’s Kenan Stadium put its new video board to commencement use in May 2003, people who attended the ceremony found that the larger-than-life images greatly enhanced their viewing experience. At this year’s ceremony, UNC is adding additional enhancement: The video board will display real-time captioning.

"Every year, we look at the ceremonies and see if there is something that we can do to improve the quality of the ceremony for the graduates and the guests. Some of the improvements are very noticeable, like the addition of the video board two years ago. Some are not as apparent, but are procedural and just add to the quality of the ceremony," said Jim Kessler, director of UNC’s Department of Disability Services.

"This year, we thought that adding captioning to the video board would enhance the commencement experience – not just for those individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, but for everyone. By adding a printed value to the spoken word, we believe we will increase the understanding of the speaker’s message."

The captioning provides an extra reference, particularly for people with profound hearing loss, said Burwell Ware, general manager of Caption Perfect Inc. The Chapel Hill company is providing the captioning services during the ceremony.

"A lot of people who have a hearing impairment but do not read sign language may feel really left out of what’s going on," said Ware.

The technology is normally used for broadcast television – and, in fact, the Federal Communications Commission is requiring that 100 percent of new programming (with specified exemptions) be captioned by 2006.

For UNC’s spring commencement ceremony, technicians will take audio from the sound board located on the Kenan field and transmit it by phone line to a real-time caption writer in Fort Myers, Fla. She will listen to the words on a headset and produce captioning on a 24-to-25-key stenograph that enables a form of shorthand. The information is then transmitted to the Kenan Field House, where a close-caption decoder will take the signal and combine it with the video on the board.

The process should take about three seconds, Ware said. And the error rate should equal no more than one incorrect transmission out of every 200 words.

The captioning will be displayed two lines at a time on the lower eighth of the video screen, accompanied by video of the ceremony.

As one might imagine, the job of caption writer is not without pressure. Ware said it can take a decade or so for a caption writer to have the skills and training to perform at a live event such as UNC’s commencement. After learning how to perform close captioning in specialized schools, these professionals often practice by captioning school board meetings or at home with the television.

The technology has been used before for ceremonies with such large audiences, but Ware added, "I haven’t seen it myself on such a large display." And yes, he’ll definitely be at the field house on Sunday.

Kessler can be reached at 919-962-8300. Ware can be reached at 919-942-0693.

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Cancer diagnosis didn’t keep Jones
from her education, dream of helping others

Natalie Jones of Gastonia was granted admission to UNC in December 2000. Two weeks later she was diagnosed with cancer. "I was hit with the highest high, and then the lowest low," said Jones who applied for early decision admission to UNC after visiting the campus with her father.

Jones was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a high school senior. She noticed knots in her neck and tried a number of treatments with no results. One of her doctors finally suggested she have a biopsy. She was only 17 years old at the time, so the doctors informed Jones’ parents of the biopsy results first.

"I knew something was wrong when they picked me up from work in the middle of my shift. I was so scared," said Jones. "My parents sat me down on my bed and told me I had cancer."

Jones underwent surgery and then began chemotherapy. Though she knew the odds were in her favor, Jones said there came a time when she found herself at peace with the cancer. "My parents were looking at me in my hospital bed. I had already lost all my hair from the chemo and I was sick with pneumonia again. The way they looked at me … I felt at peace with myself and with my faith, even if things didn’t go the way we hoped," said Jones.

Despite missing school for surgery and chemotherapy, Jones managed to graduate from high school on time – the salutatorian of her class. "My teachers would come to my house during recovery periods or they would send stuff to the hospital for me to read," said Jones. However, radiation treatments would prevent her from coming to UNC in August 2000 to begin her freshman year.

That December, Jones and her family got the news they were hoping for. The cancer was in remission. She decided she was ready to come UNC and moved into a residence hall room the following month. "At the time I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to study, but I knew it would have something to do with health care," said Jones. "I wanted to help people the way I was helped."

Today, Jones is mature well beyond her 22 years. She recently learned that her grandmother has non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. "I gave her some of my hats I used to wear when I was going through chemo," said Jones. "Maybe she’ll be wearing one when she comes to see me walk at graduation."

Jones may be reached at 704-214-6910 or rayoflight16@hotmail.com.

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Disability never slowed student
intent on scholarship, leadership

Spot a small young lady in an electric wheelchair in Kenan Stadium on Sunday and you will see an outstanding student leader and scholar, who never once thought muscular dystrophy would keep her from graduating on time.

"Throughout my life, there have been many obstacles along my path to college that prepared me for my experiences at UNC," said Stacy Jade Bennett of Gibsonville, the first person in her family to graduate from college. "I consider myself a typical student (who) has lived on campus and been involved in community activities. I was provided with a wealth of amazing opportunities available at UNC, and I decided before stepping on this campus that I would make the best of my time here."

Sure, she encountered barriers and bad attitudes at times. "But I have learned that a voice and interest in provoking change forces these obstacles to become simply an extra step in my path to reaching my goals. … I hope that my life experiences help to pave the way for future individuals with disabilities to reach their goals with even fewer obstacles along the way."

Bennett will earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology, with highest honors, and a minor in women’s studies. For her honors thesis, she recruited and interviewed 16 children with muscular dystrophy and their families. Her thesis examined relationships between family functioning and coping strategies used by the children.

Recently Bennett won one of the university’s top awards for undergraduates for her four years of leadership in the honors system. She was a counsel and adviser for accused students, then oversaw and trained other counsels, scheduled and oversaw honor court cases and led an outreach program.

"I hold this as my greatest accomplishment with the (honor) system, as I believe that a model of prevention – education, gaining community support – is crucial to our goal of strengthening honor at Carolina," she said.

This summer, Bennett will travel to London, Paris, Rome and Madrid over two months, funded by a $14,000 Frances L. Phillips Travel Scholarship from UNC. She will gather information on accessibility in these oft-visited cities and, afterward, construct a Web site for people with disabilities who wish to travel to those cities. Detailed descriptions and pictures about access, with advice on what difficulties to expect, will be included.

This fall, Bennett will enter Stanford University to pursue a master’s degree in policy, organization and leadership, with a focus on higher education administration.

"My ultimate goal is to serve as dean of students at a university," she said. "I have always enjoyed educating and guiding others in decision-making. With my work in the honor system, I have seen the amazing impact that the branches of (UNC’s division of) student affairs have on students. I believe that the role of the university is not only to provide strong academic training, but also to produce well-rounded students (who) strengthen and contribute to society."

Bennett also has been president of Old West Residence Hall and parliamentarian for Delta Zeta Sorority. She is a National Merit Scholar. This week, she can be reached at 336-213-2994 or stacyb@email.unc.edu.

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First class of Robertsons
to graduate at UNC, Duke

The first class of 27 Robertson Scholars will graduate at commencement ceremonies Sunday at UNC and Duke University, each with a story to tell about their adventures in a first-of-its-kind awards program.

The merit scholars study at both universities and complete summer public service projects in the Southeastern United States and abroad. Their locations have ranged from rural Kentucky to Uganda, Poland and Hong Kong.

The first Robertson class has accounted for several accolades and honors. At UNC, Johanna Rankin of Gastonia won a Fulbright scholarship for 2005-2006 and will study HIV prevention strategies for youth in West Africa.

The other 12 UNC Robertson Scholars graduating Sunday are Melissa Anderson of Charlotte; Britt Peck of Greensboro; Samantha Fernandez of Raleigh; Blair Goldstein of Rocky Mount; Kavitha Kolappa of Washington, N.C.; Rachel Thompson of Washington, D.C.; Lisa Stratton of Greenbelt, Md.; Becky O’Doherty of Floral Park, N.Y.; Ann Warshaw of Cincinnati; Zack Beasley of Columbia, S.C.; Heavenly Johnson of Ooltewah, Tenn.; and Sarah Pickle of Temple, Texas.

The scholars were chosen on merit from among more than 30,000 applicants to the two universities. About half were based at, and will graduate from, each school. In the spring semester of their sophomore year, they switched campuses, living in each other’s environments to become more academically and socially involved at the sister school.

The program, created in 2000 with a $24 million endowment from Julian and Josie Robertson of New York City, aims to increase collaboration by the two universities. Scholars receive full tuition at Duke or full tuition, room and board at UNC. For more information, contact Jessalynn Strauss at 919-843-5119 or jstrauss@unc.edu.

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Twins choose same university, major, residence
hall room – but create their own unique paths

Michelle Greene of Randleman had it all figured out as a high school student: She would attend the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. It seemed like the perfect place to her and a perfect plan.

But then her twin sister, Tammy, decided that she really wanted to attend UNC-Chapel Hill. Really, really wanted to attend UNC-Chapel Hill. And their mother, Georgiana, thought it might be a nice idea for them to be together during their college years.

So …

"I came here, did the tour and decided that I would go here," said Michelle. "This turned out to be the best experience that I’ve had, and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world."

When Michelle and Tammy graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill on Sunday – Michelle with a double major in journalism and African and Afro-American studies and Tammy with a double major in journalism and information and library science – it will be momentous more for than the fact of their degrees. Graduation day might mean the first time that the two go their separate ways (they are interviewing for jobs now).

Both have lived together their entire lives.

"We roomed together, staying in Manly (residence hall) all four years. We definitely didn’t have to make the adjustment to a roommate – we did that 18 years before we got here," said Michelle.

Tammy added: "It’s been great. We just came into college knowing that we were embarking on a really important time in our lives. It has been wonderful to have Michelle here to experience it with me."

Even though the sisters went to the same university, lived in the same room and chose the same major (and even the same sequence within that major: public relations), they have immersed themselves in different groups and organizations and had their own unique experiences here, they both said.

"These four years have been good to find ourselves as individuals," said Michelle. "We’re really ready to make our move to the world. Close by or far apart, we’ll always love each other and remain really close."

Tammy and Michelle Greene can be reached at 336-471-9325 (Tammy’s cell phone).

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Commencement Web site: http://www.unc.edu/commencement

Contacts: Print: Lisa Katz, 919-962-2093, lisa_katz@unc.edu, or Deb Saine, 919-962-8415, deborah_saine@unc.edu. Broadcast: Karen Moon, 919-962-8595 or karen_moon@unc.edu