WINGATE – Phyllis Wingate told those crossing the Cuddy Arena commencement stage that they should not let their circumstances limit their vision or success.
The daughter of a small-town Baptist minister and a mill worker went on to become Atrium Health’s northern division president.
“They had seven children and very little wealth,” she said of her parents. “But they instilled in their children a belief that education makes you a better person and gives you a better life.”
Health care was again front and center in Wingate University’s third fall commencement.
Of the more than 230 students walking across the stage to receive their diplomas, 91 had earned physical-therapy or physician-assistant degrees. Before diplomas were handed out, three Union County physicians received honorary doctorates for their service to the medical community.
Phyllis Wingate has also devoted her working life to providing healthcare to the masses, though on the administration side. She spent 20 years in healthcare roles in Virginia and Maryland before joining Carolinas Healthcare System in 2002. The division she heads includes three hospitals. She said her career has given her many opportunities to help others.
“That’s why a lot of people enter healthcare, to serve,” she said. “For these healthcare-field graduates, you will learn to understand this truth by simply doing your job and doing it well. If you are entering a non-healthcare field, such as education, business/finance or sports management, there will still be occasions for you to be of service.”
When those occasions arise, she offered this advice: “Give back what’s on loan to you: your talents, your time, your resources. Your life will be richer, fuller and bolder for it, and you just might find true success.”
“There is much research that shows that people who give of themselves, their talent and resources are more likely to be satisfied with their life,” Phyllis Wingate said, citing the generosity of celebrities such as Bono, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey as well as local examples with whom she shared the commencement stage.
“The physician honorees today are being recognized for their service. It is part of their legacy and a testament to their lives well lived,” she added, referring to honorary degree recipients Edward Bower, John Vick and Lane Ormand.
Ormand was Union County’s first board-certified OB/GYN specialist. He was instrumental in creating the Union County Division of Public Health High Risk Maternity Clinic. The Monroe Women’s Clinic was renamed the Ormand Center for Women in his honor.
Bower introduced highly specialized surgical techniques to Union County and established the wound-care center at Atrium Health Monroe. He was named Union County Man of the Year in 2007 and received the Governor’s Medallion Award for Volunteer Service.
Vick joined Union Family Practice in 1982. He has been the driving force behind the practice’s rural residency program, which allows doctors to complete their residency requirements by providing care to the medically underserved.
Wingate President Rhett Brown called the three physicians the “founding fathers of modern healthcare in Union County.”
In addition to the three honorary degrees, the university awarded 49 Master of Physician Assistant Studies degrees, 42 Doctor of Physical Therapy degrees, 11 MBAs and six Master of Arts in Sport Management degrees. Eighty-nine undergraduates were also presented with their diplomas.
Rosalyn Robinson, of Rock Hill, earned a bachelor of science in biology. Wingate’s health sciences reputation attracted her to the university.
“I want to become a sonographer and then get into neuroscience,” said Robinson, who began her studies in pre-pharmacy, but preferred biology to chemistry. “There were still a lot of programs here with medical, so I knew it was a good choice. The teachers were able to know me and know what I needed help with.”
Michela Verpelli, a tennis All-American with a 4.0 GPA, earned the H.K. Helms Award, presented annually to the graduate achieving the highest scholastic average. The award honors the memory of former Wingate mayor H.K. Helms.