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Commencement Tip Sheet

For immediate use

May 11, 2006 -- No. 258

Local angles: Cary, Charlotte, Hillsborough, Mars Hill, New London, Ramseur, Whiteville; Rome, Ga.; Clarksville, Ky.; Merrick, N.Y.; Chesapeake, Va.

CHAPEL HILL - The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's spring commencement will be at 9:30 a.m. Sunday (May 14) in Kenan Stadium. A hooding ceremony for doctoral graduates will be at 10 a.m. Saturday (May 13) in Memorial Hall. Below are some human interest story ideas connected to this year's ceremonies, with contact information for pursuing each one.

Ceremony part of homecoming
for colonel serving in Iraq

Among the Dads coming to see their daughters and sons graduate Sunday will be one from a combat hot spot halfway around the world.

Col. Todd Ebel, commander of the second brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, now in Baghdad, will use the only leave allowed him during his year in Iraq to see his daughter Brooke walk in Carolina blue.

A career Army officer and West Point graduate, Ebel oversees 4,000 U.S. Army troops and 4,000 Iraqi soldiers. Usually, the Army assigns dates for each soldier's two-week break, Brooke said. So the colonel had to do some lobbying. It didn't hurt his case to add his other reason for coming home now: Brooke's brother Garrett will graduate from high school the following Sunday (May 21) back home near Ft. Campbell in Clarksville, Ky.

The family of six discussed leave options before Ebel left last fall, choosing the graduations and conceding that that meant the colonel would be in Iraq for Christmas. Holidays come every year, they decided, but "we talked about this being a once-in-a-lifetime event," Brooke said.

The colonel is not the only leader in the family. Brooke, who is earning her bachelor's degree in psychology, founded a peer leadership coaching program within UNC's Carolina Leadership Development Program. She also helped organize last year's Dance Marathon, an annual student event that benefits the N.C. Children's Hospital.

This summer, Brooke will join Teach for America, a national corps of recent college graduates who teach for two years in urban and rural public schools. That means that Sunday will bring her a second extra-special joy: Wendy Kopp, founder and president of Teach for America, will be the commencement speaker.

But even that can't top what will happen this week, when her whole family arrives and she sees her Dad for the first time since August.

"I'm going to be so excited," she said. "He has this Carolina sweatshirt, and it's getting old because he wears it so much." Soon, he'll get a brand new one from his first child to graduate from college.

Brooke Ebel can be reached through early Saturday (May 13) afternoon at (919) 923-1961. The best time for photos and interviews will be from mid-morning Saturday until early Saturday afternoon, when Brooke shows her family around campus. Media representatives are asked to minimize time with the Ebels to allow them to make the most of their short reunion. The family cannot be reached on Sunday except for briefly after the ceremony in Kenan Stadium. After that, a private lunch with friends is planned.


Small-town graduate to Teach for America,
introduce its founder at commencement

Graduating senior Jenny Peddycord has lived in the small town of Ramseur, in Randolph County, since she was adopted from South Korea at age 4. She has traveled around the country, but she mostly called North Carolina home.

Now she's headed for the big cities - after a special role in commencement on Sunday.

A double major in biology and communication studies, Peddycord is bound for Philadelphia, where she will train this summer to teach in inner-city Baltimore public schools for two years starting in August. She's one of 32 Carolina seniors who plan to work for the national nonprofit Teach for America after graduating.

Peddycord, this year's senior class vice president, will introduce the commencement speaker on Sunday. And this year, the speaker is none other than Wendy Kopp, founder and president of Teach for America.

"She's such a great role model for us, and where we are in our lives," Peddycord said. "She started Teach for America as part of her honors thesis when she was in college. I think she can inspire people who don't think they can make a difference until they are older. It will be a privilege to meet someone so young that has accomplished so much."

Since Teach for America began in 1990, more than 250 Carolina alumni have joined the corps. Last year, UNC ranked among the top three schools nationally in participation, with Teach for America as the largest single employer of UNC graduates (36).

The organization also offers opportunities for its young teachers to work toward master's degrees in education while they teach, at universities that sometimes offer reduced tuition to Teach for America participants, she said. Peddycord plans to attend Johns Hopkins University.

"I really like the mission statement for Teach for America, to end educational inequalities in the United States," said Peddycord. "I knew I wanted to do something to make a difference after graduation."

She can be reached this week at (919) 370-4104 or


Mother, son overcome obstacles
to graduate on same day

What a Mother's Day week for Edith Best of Hillsborough.

Not only is she earning her master's and doctoral degrees in education this weekend, but her youngest child, son Keshava (pronounced "KAY-sheh-vah"), also will graduate from Carolina. He'll earn a bachelor's degree in business administration after six and a half years of working his way through college.

They have three fetes to attend this weekend: her doctoral hooding ceremony Saturday; the university-wide commencement Sunday morning for both their graduations; and Keshava's ceremony at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. "I'll probably still be in my cap and gown from the morning," said Edith Best.

"My other son and his wife are coming," she said. "We'll probably have a picnic between the two ceremonies Sunday." Unfortunately, her husband and daughter will be out of the state.

During Best's three years of graduate work in the UNC School of Education, both her parents and her two sisters died. She's sad not to be able to share this experience with them, but happy to share it with Keshava.

"I couldn't have passed statistics without his help," she said.

Now, she is completing an internship as a sort of principal-in-training at Cameron Park Elementary School in Hillsborough. She consults for private schools across the country and internationally. One job was to facilitate a dispute among principals of four schools in Bengal, India, who flew her there for five days.

Best and her husband previously ran what was then called the Iskcon School, a private Hare Krishna school in Hillsborough. Keshava graduated there at age 14. Then, he spent time in locations including Denmark and India.

"Everywhere I went, I had to find stuff that was slightly useful to do," he said. "I worked for an Indian television station for four months, and with friends in Florida who had a Web development company."

Then his older brother back in the Triangle offered Keshava a place to live, and "I got a job that was OK with me going to school during the day," Keshava said. He worked at C.T. Nassau in Burlington, a textiles manufacturer, either full- or part-time throughout his time in college. He began his studies at Alamance Community College.

His high school grades weren't the best, he said. But in four semesters at Alamance, Best earned a 4.0.

"I always wanted to get a business degree, from Carolina, specifically," he said. "It took me three tries to get into Carolina and three tries to get into the business school. It was the only four-year college I applied to and the only major I wanted … I knew I could get in eventually if I just put my mind to it."

Keshava Best can be reached at (919) 949-3894; Edith Best can be reached Friday (May 12) and Saturday (May 13) at (919) 643-2002 or


Mother and child reunion set
for Mother's Day at Carolina

On Sunday, graduate Kimberly Chapman and her Mom, Kathie Barton, will be together on Mother's Day for the first time in 10 years. Soon afterward, they're going to Kenya, where Mom will experience her daughter's passion for global health and social justice firsthand.

Chapman will earn her master's degree in public health at the School of Public Health's commencement at 1 p.m. Sunday in Memorial Hall. Barton will come from the family residence in Kelowna, British Columbia, for the ceremony.

Chapman's choice of a college so far from home was one thing that kept them apart, but the biggest factor was her trips abroad on public service missions. In Kenya twice in the last year, she is the first and continuing chairman of the board for Carolina for Kibera, a nonprofit group that serves a community believed to be East Africa's largest urban slum.

Last November, Time magazine recognized the student-founded organization as one of 10 heroes of global health - initiatives that can serve as models for others. The group, based in UNC's University Center for International Studies, operates a youth sports league, a health clinic, a training and discussion program for girls and a solid-waste and recycling program. All told, Chapman said, the group serves 7,000 to 8,000 people in Kibera, which is near Nairobi.

Chapman plans to stay in Chapel Hill, continuing on with Carolina for Kibera and her job at the UNC Center for AIDS Research. She earned a bachelor's degree in health policy and administration from UNC in 2000, having attended on a Morehead Scholarship. The four-year merit award covers all expenses and provides four summer enrichment experiences.

After her freshman year, Chapman worked in Zimbabwe with Students for Students International, which raises money for and awards scholarships to seventh-graders who would not otherwise be able to attend school. The next summer, she worked with the Chicago AIDS Foundation, and the next, in Thailand, with Family Health International, on issues related to AIDS.

"I credit UNC for mentorship, encouragement and resources to get out there in the world and do some of these projects," Chapman said. "I've had the opportunity to travel" and see the effects of health care disparities. "Once you've had an experience like that, these are not just statistics, but people you care about."

Chapman also has worked with World Camp, started as a student organization at UNC and now independent. The group holds health education camps for children in Malawi. This summer, it will expand to Honduras.

Soon, Canada will meet Kibera as Chapman shows her Mom some of the results of her Carolina experience. Chapman can be reached at (919) 260-1090 or


Children, in-laws, grandchildren
coming to 'Grandpa's graduation'

Something Sidney J. Harris once said was what started Milton Cooke down the road toward graduation from Carolina - the second time.
"Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time," Cooke, 70, of Chapel Hill, quotes the late journalist as having said. "It is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable."

Years before, in 1955, he had dropped out of UNC after his sophomore year.

"My father wrote me and said he had no more money. Then I looked at my grades, and that was an additional motivator. I owed money to my fraternity for food, money to the university for tuition and money to Milton's Clothing Cupboard (a longtime Franklin Street store) for clothes."

So off he went, to two marriages, three kids and a successful career of organizing international conferences and trade exhibitions, leading international group tours and giving seminars on how to travel the world. All that, yet something still missing.

"To have been given the opportunity as a 17-year-old boy to get an education at Carolina and to blow it is something that I've regretted my whole life."

Four years ago, Cooke was divorced and living alone in California, his children grown and gone. He called Carolina, and administrators "were just incredibly receptive" to his idea of coming back. "I loaded up the car, got on I-40 and seven days later found myself in Chapel Hill."

That was four years ago. Now, Cooke's children, their spouses and his six grandchildren are coming from Arizona, California and Ohio "to participate in Grandpa's graduation."

Cooke majored in international studies with a minor in creative writing. His message for folks in their 50s and up who regret not finishing college years ago: "Going to school at our age is so much fun, and so good for the soul. Getting the degree after all these years is, as MasterCard says, priceless."

Cooke does at least one other thing that people his age are not known for. "I ride a motor scooter to school every day. If I catch all the lights at the James Taylor Bridge, I can get from my house to campus, park and be walking to class in four minutes.

"Now that I'm a graduate, maybe I'll get a Harley or something," he said. "There are a lot of older women who like leather." Cooke can be reached at (919) 969-1514 or


Student finishes work
before baby girl arrives

Sreeja Asokan doesn't know which will come first: her daughter or her doctorate.

The Carrboro resident and native of India just finished her Ph.D. in physics and astronomy, but she doesn't plan to participate in the doctoral hooding ceremony Saturday or the university-wide commencement on Sunday.

"I'm nervous that my water might break," she said. Asokan's first child was due Wednesday (May 10), a few days before Mother's Day and commencement.

During her last trimester, her back hurt each time she bent over to look through a microscope. During the first, "I had bad morning sickness … The boys were great. We'd go out to lunch, and if I had to throw up on the way back, they'd hold my hair." For most of her last year, Asokan was the only woman in her lab.

"It was difficult doing experiments toward the end, but I had a lot of support from my lab mates," she said. "My dissertation adviser was (Bowman and Gordon Gray Professor) Dr. Richard Superfine. He was so supportive throughout the pregnancy, helping me to finish up in time."

Asokan and her husband, Aravind Asokan, met in undergraduate school in India. They began doctoral programs at UNC in 2000. Aravind finished his degree in pharmaceutical chemistry two years ago and is a post-doc researcher at the UNC Gene Therapy Center with director Dr. Jude Samulski.

Sreeja Asokan isn't distressed over missing the two ceremonies - just glad that she finished her degree work before the baby's birth.

"It couldn't have worked out better, I guess," she said. "Everybody takes a short break after they graduate, before they go into the next part of their career. I couldn't ask for a better break than taking care of a baby."

Asokan can be reached at 928-0730 - if she is not in the maternity ward.


UNC seniors recognized
for public service, scholarship

Forty-one graduating seniors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have logged more than 16,000 hours of public service between them.

They are members of the 2006 Public Service Scholars Program, which launched in 2003 and graduated its first scholars last year. The program, now graduating its second class, provides a framework for students to explore service opportunities, learn news skills and link their academic experience to making a difference in their community.

The 41 graduates of this year’s class boast an average of more than 400 service hours per graduate, and all of them have maintained high academic achievement as part of the program’s requirements. They’ve done internships at charitable hospitals in India, volunteered as companions at the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, and worked at El Centro Latino in Carrboro – to name just a few of their endeavors.

“We are proud of all our Carolina students who take the time to serve others and particularly proud of the students who make the commitment to become a Public Service Scholar,” Chancellor James Moeser wrote in a message to the graduates. “We are confident that as they leave Chapel Hill, they will continue the proud tradition of service and engagement they have demonstrated while here.”

Students in the program must document 300 hours of service, receive a grade of B or better in two service learning classes, take training in four identified skill areas and create and present a service portfolio. Participants with a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher (on a four-point scale) achieve the official status of “Public Service Scholar,” and those with a grade-point average of 2.5 or higher achieve special recognition in public service. The Carolina Center for Public Service oversees the program.

To learn more about the program or for help in connecting with a Scholar or two, call the Carolina Center for Public Service at (919) 843-7568 or visit

A news release featuring the Class of 2006 Public Service Scholars is posted at:


Survey of 2005 UNC grads
shows 61 percent work full time

While 2006 graduates are just beginning to take their first steps into life after college, UNC's class of 2005 is already making its mark in the workplace and graduate school.

University Career Services recently released results of a fall survey of May 2005 bachelor's degree recipients. All class members for whom the university had addresses, 2,833, received surveys; 42.7 percent responded.

Marcia Harris, career services director, said that 61.1 percent of those responding were employed full-time. The percentage of students going to graduate school, 31.1 percent, was the highest ever.

"The fact that we had such a high number of students going directly to graduate or professional school, even in a strong job market, indicates that students are not simply going to school because they cannot find a job," Harris said. Instead, "they have a strong desire for further education or an additional degree."

Nearly 44 percent of the respondents had had at least one internship. "Internships and hands-on experience related to a student's area of study are becoming increasingly important," Harris said.

Other survey findings include:

For more information, contact Harris at (919) 962-4481 or


Show biz is goal for 10 students
with minors in screen, stage writing

The second class of students earning minors in writing for the screen and stage will graduate this week.

Most of the 10 students will participate in UNC's Hollywood summer internship program; others will head to New York, said David Sontag, Wesley Wallace Distinguished Professor of communication studies and former film writer and producer.

The minor, part of the communication studies and dramatic art departments and the creative writing program in the English department, began in fall 2003.

One of last year's graduates worked on "Spider-Man 2" and is working on "Spider-Man 3." Another was invited to become a member of the Playwrights Unit at Actors Studio-West, a group of professional actors based in West Hollywood. A third student's short film placed second in the Angelus Student Film Festival, which showcases the work of emerging filmmakers.

"Basically, all of them are working in the business in one way or another," Sontag said.

The 2006 graduates with the minor and their contact information are Amanda Axelrod of Chesapeake, Va.,; Jonathan Benson of New London,; Jake Goldman of Merrick, N.Y.,; Jeff Hortman of Rome, Ga.,; John Olsen of Cary,; Nick Snyder of Charlotte,; Brandon Vanhook of Mars Hill,; and Jan Ward of Whiteville,

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Commencement 2006 media advisory:
Commencement Web site:

News Services contact: L.J. Toler, (919) 962-8589; staff member on call, pager (919) 216-2584.