“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir one’s blood. … Make big plans; aim high in hope and in work.”
With those words, attributed to Daniel Burnham, a 19th century American architect and urban designer who designed some of the world’s first skyscrapers, Jean Driscoll began her remarks as keynote speaker at the college’s 2019 Jenkins Graduate School Hooding Ceremony held at Raleigh’s Mehmandi Concert Hall on Thursday, May 9. (Click here to read excerpts from her remarks.)
It was the first of two ceremonies honoring a total of 709 Poole College students graduating this spring. The hooding ceremony provided the college’s 230 master’s program graduates (in accounting, economics and management) and three doctoral program graduates (in economics) an opportunity to formally receive their graduate program hoods, which they would wear at the university and college commencement ceremonies held on Saturday, May 11, at the PNC Arena. The hooding ceremony was streamed live on Poole College’s Facebook account and can be viewed here.
Hannah Semke, an NC State Park Scholar who graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and concentration in operations/supply chain management, presented the student address at the college’s commencement ceremony, where graduates received their diplomas. Semke’s remarks focused on the sense of family and a ‘home’ within the university that the college provided in the course of her undergraduate studies. (Click here to read excerpts from her remarks.)
Poole College communications also caught up with Semke and five other Poole College graduates, to get their reflections on their Woflpack experience. Click here to go to view their video interviews.
Jean Driscoll: Overcoming Challenges, Finding and Following Your Passion
Driscoll, a motivational speaker, author, award-winning athlete, and advocate worldwide for persons with disabilities, said that she saw some parallels between her successful career and the architect she quoted, Daniel Burnham.
While unable to pass entrance exams for Yale and Harvard, Burnham could draw well, she said. That led him to find his passion for architecture, starting as a draftsman at an architectural firm in Chicago and ultimately as designer of some of the first skyscrapers and a role as director of works for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Driscoll, who recently joined the NC State community as executive director of development at the NC State College of Design. was born with spina bifida, a congenital birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord do not form properly. Children with this condition often have trouble walking due to nerve damage, causing weak leg muscles.
“My legs weren’t strong enough to walk one block to school, but ultimately, I broke the world record in the marathon five times,” she said. When she began using a wheelchair at age 15, she said, “I thought my life was over, but the very thing I thought was going to limit me was actually what provided freedom, independence and the ability to fly – to go very fast on wheels.”
Driscoll said she was walking by age two, but her legs were too weak for her to walk to school. Instead, her siblings got her there in a wagon: “They pushed, I steered,” she said. In time, she learned to ride a bicycle, which provided the freedom to go to the park and visit friends on her own. During a fall, she dislocated her hip, which led to five operations and a body cast for a full year, she said. When her cast was off, she began using crutches and a wheelchair.
“I was devastated,” she said, but that didn’t stop her. She earned a bachelor’s degree in speech communication with honors in 1991, and a master’s in rehabilitation administration in 1993, both from the University of Illinois, which had recruited her to play wheelchair basketball. While there, she also joined the school’s wheelchair track and road racing team. “Racing chairs looked really cool – like dragsters,” she said.
In 1997, Driscoll was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Rhode Island, and in 2002 an honorary law degree from the Massachusetts School of Law. In April 2012, she received the Lincoln Academy’s “Order of Lincoln”, the highest honor given by the State of Illinois. Past recipients include Ronald Reagan and Jack Benny.
Driscoll began racing in short distance events. She was encouraged to try the marathon, though, and ultimately qualified to compete in the Boston Marathon. She wasn’t confident about her ability to climb the hills, but told the Poole College graduate students that while she was aiming for third place in her first Boston Marathon, in 1990, she ended up winning in a world best time of 1:43:17. She subsequently won the women’s wheelchair division of the Boston Marathon a total of eight times during her athletic career – more than any other female athlete in any division.
She also participated in four Summer Paralympic Games, winning a total of five gold, three silver, and four bronze medals in events ranging from 200 meters to the marathon. She held the world’s best time in the women’s wheelchair division at Boston for 21 years and established new world records five times. She also won two Olympic and 12 Paralympic medals as a member of Team USA and still holds the world record in the 10,000 meter track event.
Sports Illustrated for Women magazine recognized Driscoll as one of the top 25 female athletes of the twentieth century; in July 2012, she was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.
Driscoll then accepted an invitation from an organization that collects wheelchairs and sends them to prisons where they are restored and made available to those in need, primarily in developing countries.
She flew to Ghana, West Africa, in 2001 and 2002 to lead a wheelchair track camp and partnered with five Rotary Clubs in 2003 to raise money for the athletes to come to the U.S. and receive their very own everyday wheelchairs and racing chairs, something most of them never had before. As a result of this work, Ghana sent one male and one female athlete to the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece, as the country’s first Paralympians, and they haven’t missed any of the Games since then.
“You never know the impact we have on others in our professional careers and personal lives,” she said.
Jenkins MBA Grad Honors Professor Carr
During a reception following the hooding ceremony, Jason Davidson, a Jenkins MBA graduate who completed the first three semesters of his MBA degree online while on active duty with the U.S. Army in Saudi Arabia, took a few moments to present a special token of appreciation – a Challenge Coin – to one of his professors, Jon Carr, Jenkins Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship.
Members of the U.S. military can recommend an individual to receive the North Carolina State Military and Veteran Services Challenge Coin. Steeped in military tradition, the award recognizes those who demonstrate an unwavering commitment, through acts above and beyond the call of duty, to the success and growth of NC State’s military affiliated students, faculty, and staff.
Davidson said he nominated Carr for the medal in recognition of the mentorship and support he received from Carr while abroad. Carr, in return, said that working with Davidson had made him aware of the importance of adjusting schedules to accommodate students studying remotely in different time zones.
“Dr. Carr took the time to get to know me through countless emails, Google Meet sessions, and phone calls. He created an environment where I could connect more easily with my peers and ensured I stayed on track in terms of the course. I would not be graduating today without the mentorship he provided.
When Davidson returned to the U.S., he said Carr “took time out of his busy schedule to meet with me in person on several occasions to discuss not only course material, but also life in general and how the deployment went for me. With his prior military experience, I believe he has a passion not only for teaching but also for seeing veterans succeed. He truly went the extra mile for me, as I am sure he has done for other student veterans.”
Davidson also commended the NC State Military and Veterans Services staff for their “world class veterans support services. … It has enriched the lives of countless vets, allowing them to connect with their community and school, all while helping them succeed academically.”
Hannah Semke: Finding our Home
Semke, speaking at Poole College’s Commencement Ceremony on May 11, said she recalled hearing Chancellor Randy Woodson challenge her and other new undergraduate students to “find our home” within the NC State University,” during his address to new students when she was a freshman.
“Since then, I’ve come to realize that Poole is more than just a college with incredibly intelligent and impressive students, more than a college that offers top ranked courses with outstanding professors, more than just an undergraduate program where we complete our bachelor’s degrees.
“I believe it was in Poole College where we all found our home, a family made up of people from diverse backgrounds with very different life experiences, which is what makes us so special.
“Nelson Hall is our house,” she said. “Every house has a common space or kitchen where family members gather and spend a majority of their time. For us, that is Nelson Commons and PCJ (Port City Java). Think of the endless hours we spent meeting with group project teams or doing last minute studying for an exam in the Commons.”
She also drew parallels between family life and life as a Poole College student, including shared experiences and celebrating “what makes us all unique and excited,” citing as examples the college’s Latinx Heritage Party, the Diwali Festival, HERstory event, and Black History month celebration.
“Families support one another. From the faculty to the students, we always feel like someone has our back and will be there if we need help.” And, she said, “Families have common values. For us NC State students, that is our Think and Do. Because (it) is instilled in us, we are not afraid to get our hands dirty and do challenging or difficult work. We know how to think up the great big ideas and then develop a plan of action to do them.
Semke, whose home town is Winston-Salem, N.C., also was an active member of the college and greater campus community. She was a Poole College student ambassador, member of the Supply Chain Club, and studied abroad in Italy. She served on the William C. Friday Award Committee and helped plan the Gerald H. Elkan Distinguished Lecture Series, participated in Service Raleigh for four years, and is a member of Alpha Delta Pi Sorority. She also completed several internships, with the Cisco LIFT (Leaders in Finance and Technology) program, the Wake Forest University Athletic Department and the NC State Athletic Department, and worked as an educational programmer for the Salvation Army of Wake County.
“Today, all our hard work pays off, and we get to graduate from the best university with a top notch degree. Tomorrow is a new beginning and we become ‘freshman’ of the ‘real world.’ Whatever this next phase of life may look like for you, as with all new beginnings there will be excitement and there will be bumps along the way. We will think and do, and make our Wolfpack family proud. We will carry forward the NC State Poole College of Management legacy. And no matter what, I know we will not let any obstacles stop us.
“May you always remember, there’s no place like home; there’s no place like the halls of Nelson. Our family has a lifelong bond that cannot be broken. GO PACK!”