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More than 4,000 Receive Degrees at ODU's 128th Commencement Exercises

By Noell Saunders and Betsy Hnath

More than 4,000 Old Dominion students received bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees during the University's 128th commencement exercises May 4 and 5.

It was a record number of graduates for a spring commencement at ODU.

Among them was the University's first class of 16 cybersecurity bachelor's degree graduates who studied at the Center for Cybersecurity Education and Research (CCSER).

Hongyi Wu, the Batten Chair of Cybersecurity and director of the Center for Cybersecurity Education and Research, said the program prepares students with the skills necessary to protect computer systems, networks and electronic data from attack and compromise. Students learn to identify and troubleshoot potential security lapses through classroom instruction, hands-on computer labs and opportunities to participate in faculty research projects.

"The program is showing sustained, steady growth of enrollment," he said, noting it has grown from 11 students when it launched in fall 2015 to more than 200 now.

"There are approximately 33,000 cybersecurity job openings in Virginia - the highest among all states," Wu continued. "Our cyber security program is designed to educate students to develop solid solutions to secure the cyber space of individuals and organizations in various sectors of industry, military and government. The program responds to the urgent need for cybersecurity professionals in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the nation and the world.

Cybersecurity graduate David Hart said he believes one of the strongest benefits of the program is the diversity it provides by pulling from multiple disciplines.

"Through the specialized expertise of ODU's professors, we were given the opportunity to experience the best that all the disciplines had to offer," he said.

During the four commencement ceremonies, students heard inspiring words from two academic leaders, an Old Dominion alumna and a former major general in the Air Force.

College of Arts and Letters

Reuben E. Brigety II, dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University, addressed graduates of the College of Arts & Letters during the Friday afternoon ceremony.

Old Dominion University President John R. Broderick presented Brigety with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree while introducing him as "an outstanding leader" whose vision and experience earned the Elliot School of International Affairs its stellar reputation.

Brigety began his speech by recognizing the "special people in the room." He said the real sacrifices came from those who helped the graduates get to the finish line, and asked them to give a standing ovation to everyone who was part of their journey.

"Graduates, as much as we love you, you are not the special people in the room today," he told them. "The most important people are the ones in the bleachers - the mothers, the fathers, the aunts, the uncles, the grandparents. They're also the people that are here in spirit and could not be here today."

Brigety touched on the value of education and the importance of courage, which both played key roles in his career.

He was appointed dean of the Elliott School in 2015 and previously served as U.S. representative to the African Union and permanent U.S. representative to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

Brigety told a story about traveling to Kenya in 2010 to visit Dadaab, one of the largest refugee camps in the world at the time. He said he was fascinated with a woman who said she walked 1,000 miles on foot to find a refugee camp. He asked the woman what he could do for her and she simply replied, "Help me find a way to provide an education for my children."

"Even she knew the power of education." Brigity explained. "As you prepare to receive your degrees today, your credentials might be over but your education is not. Education is a lifelong commitment that requires lifelong dedication."

Brigety ended his remarks by asking graduates to apply physical and moral courage to their lives and careers.

"When you choose fear over courage, your world shrinks, but when you choose courage over fear, you create possibilities," he said.

Advanced Degrees

At the evening ceremony May 4, for those receiving master's and doctoral degrees, graduates heard remarks from John A. Adam, a longtime mathematics scholar at Old Dominion.

President Broderick praised Adam's belief that the "beauty of nature is revealed through mathematics."

"Since joining the ODU faculty in 1984, Dr. Adam has made a significant impact on the campus community," Broderick said. "Students have praised him for creating a learning environment that makes mathematics beautiful."

Adam encouraged the new graduates to seek out and speak truth, whenever necessary.

Adam reflected on his own childhood, spent in rural England as the son of a herder, where he developed a love of astronomy, even if he only got glimpses of the "moon, stars and planets about twice a year," because of the weather.

Adam encouraged the new graduates to also pursue their interests, ignoring how long it might take in favor of the satisfaction of achieving a goal.

"I remember, out of sheer hard work, I was sometimes able to out-perform my peers," Adam said. "That was the secret for me: plod, plod, plod. And the blessing of having supportive parents."

Adam suffered a heart attack in 1996, while working at the University. After open-heart surgery, doctors told him he had 99.9 percent blockage of the left anterior descending, better known as the "widow maker" artery.

"It was only when something happened to me that was completely outside of my control that I finally... developed my series of books," Adam said. "It took a very serious incident in my life to come back into focus."

Trained in theoretical astrophysics, Adam has broad interests in mathematical modeling and applied math, ranging from mathematical biology to meteorological optics. He's been a professor of math at Old Dominion since 1984, publishing more than 110 papers in mathematical and scientific journals.

Darden College of Education and Strome College of Business

On Saturday morning, Liz Edlich '85, the founder and CEO of Radical Skincare, spoke to undergraduates receiving degrees from the Darden College of Education and Strome College of Business.

Edlich, who received her bachelor's degree in human services counseling from Old Dominion's Darden College of Education in 1985, encouraged graduates to get "radical."

"If you want to make a difference, you have to be the difference," Edlich said. "To get radical results, you have to have a radical approach to life."

She also recommended graduates say "yes," even when they might want to say "no."

"Today, you may have more questions than answers," Edlich said. "But don't ever be scared of failing; be terrified of not trying."

Edlich also told graduates it was okay if their life plan wasn't completely mapped out.

"Your time and attention is your real estate: know the value of every square inch," she said. "But take a deep breath, because you are just at the beginning of your radical journey."

Edlich spent the last 15 years of her career in the direct marketing and skin care business at her company, One World Live, developing more than 100 products for celebrities and influencers. She manages product and company acquisitions, celebrity relations and commercial production.

College of Sciences, College of Health Sciences and Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology

At the final ceremony, undergraduate degree recipients from the College of Sciences, College of Health Sciences and Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology heard a talk by Sharon Dunbar, vice president and general manager of federal systems at General Dynamics Mission Systems.

During Dunbar's introduction, Old Dominion President John R. Broderick said she is a pioneer, breaking the class ceiling in the corporate world, and proved that "sky is the limit" in her 32-year Air Force career.

Dunbar focused her speech on advancement as she told graduates to think about how they will advance and help advance the lives of others.

"Advance is applicable to you today as you advance to graduate status," Dunbar said. "But it's also germane to the challenging academic disciplines that you chose to master. Because of those academic disciplines, you will advance the technological, scientific and social progress in our society."

A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Dunbar was in the third class of women accepted for admission. She earned a bachelor's degree in engineering and business management.

Dunbar also told graduates that their expertise and knowledge is invaluable and will be beneficial to many.

"Rest assured that your academic degrees are in high demand for employers," she said. "Our communities, from global to local, also need innovative graduates like you who can advance ideas and outcomes that serve the greater good."

Dunbar is responsible for meeting the operational mission needs of General Dynamics' federal customers as vice president and general manager of federal systems. She previously served for 32 years with the U.S. Air Force in assignments spanning homeland security, contracting, government relations and human resources.

She ended her remarks saying, "If you focus on advancing yourself and advancing others, you will do exceptionally well in the world that waits you upon your graduation from ODU."

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