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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Graduation: Lessons on Mentorship, Curiosity, Teamwork and Zombies

By Noell Saunders and Brendan O'Hallarn

Spring 2017 graduates of Old Dominion heard lessons about mentorship, curiosity, teamwork and even zombies during the University's 126th Commencement exercises.

As Friday storms gradually gave way to sunshine, nearly 3,000 Old Dominion students received bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees during four ceremonies held May 5 and 6 at ODU's Ted Constant Convocation Center.

Advanced Degrees

For the first time, students receiving advanced degrees participated in their own ceremony. On Friday, May 5, master's and doctoral degree recipients from all University academic colleges heard inspiring words from Tim Seibles, an ODU professor of English and nationally lauded author who is Virginia's poet laureate.

During his address, Seibles read a poem about the proliferation of zombies in which he encouraged graduates to live fearlessly and not to focus on negativity. He told them to keep living and learning and not to join the living dead by getting bogged down with the world's contagious rhetoric.

"We must not make a lifestyle of distraction of not paying attention to ourselves and the ills that assail the entire living community, human and non-human and, of course, the earth itself," he said.

Seibles further explained to graduates that everyone has a divine purpose.

"We are an essential part of the world's expressive processes. Our evolution and our presence on this planet is no accident," Seibles told the crowd. "Humanity is part of a long sentence that the cosmos is still writing."

Seibles teaches literature and classes in the Master of Fine Arts writing program. He has written several poetry collections, including "Hurdy-Gurdy," "Hammerlock," "Buffalo Head Solos" and the recently released "One Turn Around the Sun." His first book, "Body Moves," was recently re-released by Carnegie Mellon University Press as part of its Contemporary Classics series. "Fast Animal" was one of five poetry finalists for the 2012 National Book Award.

College of Arts and Letters

Earlier on May 5, graduates of the College of Arts & Letters heard from Christine Pantoya '95, senior vice president of mobile strategy with the National Basketball Association.

Pantoya told the graduates their accomplishments were rare and they should take every opportunity to celebrate a new milestone. "Less than 10 percent of the world's population will actually ever sit in a seat similar to the one you are sitting in today," she told them.

Pantoya urged graduates to surround themselves with mentors and others who support their dreams. She said she didn't always know what was to come next but the experience she gained and the chances she took along the way helped pave the road for a successful career.

"Fourteen moves, 13 jobs, eight companies and four different industries later, it turns out, it's actually very OK to not know today exactly what the very next step is going to be for the next 20 years," she said. "Some of the most exciting jobs came to me because I did what came next."

Pantoya leads the NBA's mobile strategy and partnerships business, including the continued advancement of the league's direct-to-consumer content offerings. In this role, Pantoya manages collaborations among all business areas that contribute to the development and delivery of the NBA's over-the-top and mobile product offerings globally. Pantoya earned her M.B.A., with a focus on marketing, from Old Dominion University's Strome College of Business. She holds a bachelor's degree in Spanish from the University and remains active in the ODU community, serving on the Strome College of Business' executive advisory council and mentoring students.

Darden College of Education and Strome College of Business

On Saturday morning, undergraduates receiving degrees from the Darden College of Education and Strome College of Business were told of the amazing journey by Ting Xu '88, who rose from international student at Old Dominion University to founder of the global gift, garden and home decor company Evergreen Enterprises.

Xu, who received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Old Dominion University, gave graduates two pieces of counsel while telling the story of her business career - act decisively, and stay curious.

"It has been an amazing journey for me, realizing my American dream," said Xu, a native of Shanghai, China, who was one of the first international students from that country to attend Old Dominion University.

Xu founded Evergreen Enterprises, in her garage outside Richmond, by selling decorative flags at the Virginia State Fair. She told graduates that the world they are entering is far different than the one she encountered leaving college a generation ago. But she said the principles of acting decisively and staying curious can guide today's graduates.

"Your professors at Old Dominion University have pushed you. But after graduation, that pushing stops. Don't stop yourself," Xu said.

She noted how recent ODU graduate Hamilton Perkins '08 has developed a thriving line of designer handbags created almost exclusively from recycled materials. "His curiosity and action has allowed him to help make his vision a reality," Xu said.

Perkins received significant support and mentorship at Old Dominion as he has grown his company.

"The knowledge and support is out there," Xu told graduates. "Seek it."

Under Xu's leadership, Evergreen has completed numerous acquisitions, including the 2010 purchase of Plow & Hearth, a multi-channel retailer of home, garden and children's products. A member of the University's Strome Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame, Xu earned bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science from Old Dominion.

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 received words of wisdom from Angela Hucles, a two-time Olympic gold medalist for the U.S. in soccer. She is also the founder and CEO of Empowerment Through Sport.

Hucles said she had no idea that, two decades after sitting through her own commencement ceremony, she would be the one providing words of wisdom to graduates. But as the daughter of two University professors (her parents Michael Hucles and Janis Sanchez-Hucles are Old Dominion faculty members), "education was always very important in our family," she said.

Hucles offered 10 tips, based on her experience in sport, which graduates can apply wherever life takes them after Old Dominion. They included advice about shaking off adversity and picking good teammates for support and encouragement.

But, also, Hucles said: "It's important to stop and smell the roses. Just don't pick dandelions during the game, as the other team goes charging by. Timing is everything."

Hucles founded Empowerment Through Sport in 2012, an organization focused on discovering sports leadership skills and athlete transitions that translate to life success. She was the leading scorer for the U.S. Women's National Team in the 2008 Olympic Games. She played her inaugural season of Women's Professional Soccer for the Boston Breakers. Hucles started in 48 of her 109 career appearances, ranking 24th on the all-time U.S. list.

Also at the Saturday afternoon ceremony, Barry M. Kornblau, a real estate and investment executive and long-time benefactor of Old Dominion University, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.