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CAES students returned in-person for the first time in two years to “pass the torch” and honor the achievements of their peers.

The College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences held its Student Awards on May 5, returning to Webb Hall’s auditorium for the first time since the pandemic began. Last year’s event, celebrating the graduating classes of 2020 and 2021, was held virtually.

“This is my third time hosting this beautiful event and each year looks a little different,” said Andrea Gentry-Apple, DVM, of the Department of Animal Sciences, who presided over the ceremony. “With COVID, we had to take a little break, but it was different at that point. But we’re back and better than ever, and you guys are still amazing!”

One of the highlights of the evening was the annual “Pass the Torch” speeches, in which a selection of students is chosen to describe their journey arriving to and experiencing A&T to “pass the torch onto the class below them, to the class below them, to the class below them,” according to Gentry-Apple.

Tamirrah Cox of the Department of Agribusiness, Applied Economics & Agriscience Education, recalled how an alternative school in Salisbury with access to a greenhouse sparked her path to agriculture.

“With alternative school, it was a great way to talk to kids, almost like counseling,” said Cox, “and from there I just grew up with the kids., I call my kids my ‘seedlings,’ because every time I talk to my children, I tell them ‘You’re here to promote growth.’ ”

In describing her experience at A&T, Cox thanked Chastity English, Ph.D., associate professor of Agriscience Education, for helping her with internship opportunities while pregnant and, along with her mother and mother-in-law, assisting her and her family during her time at the university.

“She has always checked on me and my children during my entire college journey,” said Cox, a mother of three boys. “If it wasn’t for her and the New Bern Garden Club helping my path, I wouldn’t be blessed with the position I’m in right now.”

Cox, an entrepreneur outside of A&T, hosts a website and several social media channels called “Ag with Mrs. Cox”, which aims to teach agriculture to elementary school students. Her goal upon graduating is to further broadcast and expand her content.

“I want to be the next Ms. Frizzle,” said Cox, referring to the main character in the Magic School Bus book and TV series of science cartoons. “Science, mineral science, animal science, it’s just as important as agriculture. It’s everything, and I want to promote that, and we really need the whole community’s support.”

Joseph Richardson, a senior in the Animal Sciences department, claimed that he recently learned the true definition of “Aggie Pride” and shared it with his fellow graduates.

“’Aggie Pride’ is the alumni, the students, the faculty, the advisors, reaching back and picking us up,” said Richardson. “And, when we’re up, it’ll be our duty to reach back and pick those behind us up.”

Richardson, who compared college to “not really a sprint but a triathlon”, declared that his degree was shared between his parents, peers, academic advisors, fraternity brothers and others involved in the struggles and accomplishments in his collegiate journey.

“You’re gonna go through dunes,” said Richardson. “You’re gonna go through wars. You’re gonna go through the lakes and the rivers to get to the other side.”

The college career of Lia Artis, a graduate in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, started when she was 3 years old in what would be one of several visits to the university with family.

“When I was a kid, walking around the campus, I always told myself that I was going to go here,” said Artis, a legacy graduate. “17 years later, here I am.”

In her speech, food and nutritional sciences major Artis gave a new twist to the old saying that “80 percent of success is showing up.”

“Show up for yourself,” she said, helping make the collegiate experience smoother to navigate.

“We have a job to show up for our past, present and future self,” said Artis., who will attend  Brown University next year under a full-ride scholarship to study public health. “We have a job to show up for our community and how it can affect others. Lastly, we have a job to show up for the generations before us…when you show up for yourself, you show up for others.”

Kai Dawson, a graduate of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Design, passed the last torch of the evening in an emotional speech.

“Some students are a particular kind of athlete and want to pass the ball,” said Dawson. “Some students are a particular kind of star and just want to pass. Some students are a little introverted, like me, and watch the spotlight pass them by. But good teachers know how to help us shine our lights for the world to see.”

Dawson, who has autism, thanked several faculty and staff members – including English, Alston and Gregory Goins, Ph.D., professor and chair of the department and Student Support Services Manager Kishaa James –  for their encouragement and helping provide internship, employment and social opportunities as he studied strategically and efficiently at the university.

“My time at A&T has had its peaks and valleys,” said Dawson. “Making the Dean’s List was a peak for me because I overcame many challenges to achieve that accomplishment.”

Associate Dean Antoine Alston, Ph.D., closed the event by echoing Richardson’s speech.

“When you get to the top, don’t put an ‘out of order’ sign on the elevator,” said Alston. “Some of us out here do that. Reach back. Help the next brother and sister behind you. Always strive for excellence and don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do.”

Others celebrated in the evening included scholarship recipients from each department, Honor Societies from Kappa Omicron Nu and Gamma Sigma Delta, and the Undergraduate Research Scholars program.