Arielle Stratton danced. Colin Reinhardt walked soldier-perfect. And Luke Rogers looked like a prizefighter, arm raised, smiling big, striding across the stage Saturday like he owned it.
All three made it, degree in hand. They’re now graduates of High Point University.
With broadcast legend Tom Brokaw looking on, wearing a white HPU baseball cap and shaking hands of every student who came onstage, Reinhardt, Rogers and Stratton became part of the largest graduating class in HPU’s 90-year history.
They joined 980 of their classmates. They graduated from HPU Saturday and concluded a two-day celebration that capped off four years where all three of them discovered who they wanted to be.
They matured. Their parents think so. They do, too. They became leaders and scholars, found mentors and a clear direction. But they also listened to the life lessons President Nido R. Qubein always preached.
Be excellent, be relevant, make a difference, believe in the art of the possible.
Reinhardt, Rogers and Stratton do. Now, they begin to dream big.
Rogers will go to Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine. He wants to become a doctor. Stratton will go to work for Lenovo, a multinational technology company in Raleigh. She’ll start in sales.
Meanwhile, Reinhardt plans to go to graduate school. His pick: the London School of Economics. But before that, he’ll spend six weeks this summer backpacking across Europe with two of his closest friends from HPU.
Yet, they had to end their life’s latest chapter.
That happened Saturday.
They were excited, a little nervous. Under a steel-gray sky, they sat in black gowns in front of at least 10,000 people on the lawn of Roberts Hall.
Then, as if on cue, the sun came out. It seemed so appropriate. It was the end of their undergraduate adventure. All three knew how it began.
Reinhardt didn’t have the best grades in high school. But after visiting three other colleges, he knew he wanted to go to HPU because he loved what he saw – and felt.
“Dad, this is where I want to go,’’ he said.
Following his father’s advice, Reinhardt took the initiative. He wrote a letter to the university. His father, who’s an attorney, helped. Reinhardt wrote 15 drafts, all in a week from his home in Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina.
By the end, he knew what he had to say.
It was three paragraphs, all heartfelt and earnest. Reinhardt ended it with an exclamation mark.
“I will ultimately be a High Point University success story!’’ he wrote.
“I felt more motivated here because it’s more real life,’’ Reinhardt said. “It’s your own decision on what you do, and some people ran with it. I did. That was the liberating aspect, the motivational park. The future is you and no one else.’’
Rogers came to HPU from Orlando, Florida. He didn’t even know where High Point, North Carolina was. But he knew HPU was a small school, and he could merge his love for music and his passion for medicine.
He became part of the Toccatatones, one of HPU’s a cappella groups. Since then, every time he took vocal lessons in Hayworth Fine Arts Center, he’d pass a big photo of them performing two years ago and know one thing.
“I’ll know those guys for the rest of my life,’’ he said to himself.
And now, he’ll go. On Saturday, thanks to his girlfriend, Rogers wore a mortarboard decorated with music paper, a stethoscope and his medical school’s crest – his two loves, his two passions, united as one.
In the crowd were 13 members of his family. They represented three generations, and they all drove up from Orlando, Florida. Near the front sat Rogers’ parents, Bill and Carolyn.
This was their last child, the youngest of three. He was leaving their parental orbit.
No more 10-hour trips from Orlando. And no more early-morning texts from her son, with a photo of his swollen throat and the question, “Mom, what do you think?’’
It’s over. And it’s bittersweet. And yet, Carolyn Rogers is thankful. So, on Saturday, as she lay in bed before daybreak in a hotel room near campus, Carolyn prayed.
“Thank you, thank you God,’’ she said under her breath. “Thank you for this.’’
His college career was her adventure.
Stratton always loved the adrenalin of a good sales pitch.
When she was 6, she wanted a dirt bike. She couldn’t afford one with her allowance. So, she asked her parents with a poster, a presentation in her garage and the plea, “What are you going to do about it, Dad?’’
She lost. But that was the beginning of her young sales pitch career. At 13, it was for a cell phone. At 16, it was for a car. She got those. So, when it came time to choose a college, she looked for a place that specialized in entrepreneurship.
That is how she found HPU in Maple Grove, Minnesota.
“I don’t want a generic degree,’’ she told herself. “I want something that’ll make me stand out.’’
At HPU, she did find that. She came as a Presidential Scholar. On Saturday, she graduated with honors with a degree in business with a concentration in entrepreneurship and minors in sales and human relations.
By spring, she had three job offers. She chose Lenovo. She starts in July.
Like Rogers, she decorated her mortarboard with her collegiate career in rhinestones: red for Lenovo; green for the Phillips School of Business Selling Club; blue for Alpha Kappa Psi, a business fraternity; purple for HPU 15.
Her family could spot her mortarboard from 20 rows back, and when she walked onstage to get her diploma, her parents and her little sister, Miranda, stared at the big screen near their seats.
They drove all the way from Minnesota, with a stop in Indiana to pick up Miranda from college, so they could see the walk and hear the announcer say, “Arielle Rhianna Stratton.’’
They whooped. Stratton danced.
“What is that all about?’’ Qubein asked, laughing.
“I told my parents I wanted to give them the money shot,’’ she responded.
On Friday morning inside the Millis Center, Dr. Qubein gave the Class of 2015 the advice he’s offered them often since they came to campus.
The words are the same; the advice, timeless.
“Your parents gave you roots,’’ he told them. “Our job these four years have been to give you wings, and when the eagle is flying over your head Saturday, it’ll remind you that it is your time to fly.’’
And Saturday, the eagle flew. The bagpipes played. And in his avuncular voice, Brokaw gave graduates his own life lesson. He said:
“Find people of common values, hope they respond and know that you have common ideals that have nothing to do with the nature of your last name, the pigmentation of your skin or your political beliefs, that the American dream is whole and will survive if every day we each individually and collectively make a commitment to you.’’
So it begins. The next chapter. For Reinhardt, Rogers and Stratton — and so many others.