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May 06th, 2023

Bonnie McElveen-Hunter to HPU Graduates: ‘Can’t is a word that does not exist’

HPU conferred more than 1,400 degrees this spring, representing the largest graduating class in history.

HIGH POINT, N.C., May 6, 2023 – As High Point University’s Class of 2023 crossed the Commencement stage on Saturday morning, they represented the largest graduating class in HPU’s history. More than 1,400 degrees were conferred this spring, with more than 14,000 family and friends filling the Roberts Hall lawn to congratulate the graduates and learn from this year’s Commencement speaker, the Honorable Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, an accomplished woman entrepreneur and former U.S. Ambassador to Finland.

HPU President Nido Qubein presented an honorary Doctor of Business Leadership degree to Ambassador McElveen-Hunter, the first woman to chair the American Red Cross. In addition to chairing that board for 19 years, McElveen-Hunter is a renowned philanthropist and president and CEO of Pace Communications, the nation’s largest independently owned custom content agency, serving Fortune 500 and leading companies including Wells Fargo, Four Seasons Hotels, Verizon and hundreds of others.

“Everyone has a foundation upon which they build their life,” she told graduates. “My foundation was built on my mother’s pearls of wisdom, and I’d like to share them with you:

  • Time is precious. Use it wisely.
  • Mediocrity is the greatest sin.
  • Work is the greatest privilege.
  • Failure is a comma, never a period.
  • And ‘can’t’ is a word that does not exist.

“In fact, my mother had my brother, sister and I write the word ‘can’t’ on a piece of paper, then put it in a shoebox, take a shovel to the backyard in Bossier City, Louisiana, where she instructed us to dig a hole, and we buried it. When someone says to me it ‘can’t’ be done, I think it has already received full burial rights.”

McElveen-Hunter encouraged graduates to express gratitude and love to their parents and to others who believe in them. Not everyone achieves national recognition, she said, then asked whether anyone could recall the names of the five wealthiest people in the world, the person who split the atom or five people who won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize. Those people were overachievers and the best in their field, she said.

“None of us remember headlines from yesterday,” said McElveen-Hunter. “I wonder if you remember these: Name a teacher who aided your journey through school. Name one person at High Point University who gave you a helping hand in a time of need. Name a soldier, perhaps a family member, who fought to secure freedom for you and me. Easier? The lesson is really that people who make a difference in our lives are not the ones with the most credentials or the most money or the most awards. They are the ones who care and put their caring into action.”

HPU’s Class of 2023 President Shreya R. Rana, a broadcast journalism major and theater minor from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, delivered a similar message as she reminisced about her student experience. She admitted feeling terrified at first about entering a new environment and trying to put her best foot forward. She became more confident in her major, pushed herself out of her comfort zone and met her best friend, all before noon.

“High Point University is a place where nothing feels impossible,” said Rana. “We have learned so much and acquired the tools that will make any dream possible. Because as we all know, it is not enough to dream it, we must do it. And I am 100% certain that you all will.”


As is tradition at HPU’s graduation, a bald eagle soared over the graduates at the end of the ceremony to symbolize the ideals of free enterprise, independence and the ability to pursue new opportunities in America. Every graduate received a blanket after the ceremony to give to their mothers in honor of Mother’s Day on May 14.

During the Onward with Faithful Courage event on Friday, graduates and their family members also received a powerful senior send-off from HPU President Nido Qubein, who provided the keynote address.

“If we told you anything on this campus, if we modeled anything for you on this campus, it is that you are enough,” Qubein told a packed audience of students and parents inside the Nido and Mariana Qubein Arena and Conference Center. “Nothing is impossible. Your future is bright. The future of our world and the future of our country depends on you. Graduates, I hope you will say, ‘I’ll be the person who will lead the way. I’ll be the person who will bring appreciated value. I’ll be the person with a sense of awareness. I’ll be the person who will have good judgment. I’ll be the person who will bring relevance in every step, and I’ll do it with faithful courage.’”

More highlights from Bonnie McElveen-Hunter’s speech include:

“High Point University is on the global map for transforming education. Of course, it takes a village. However, when God wants to change a family, an institution or a nation, His strategy is always the same. He puts a special person into a strategic place who can make a difference. One faithful, risk-taking visionary willing to think outside the box is all God needs to change the landscape of the world. I think you will agree with joining me to say thank you to HPU President Nido Qubein.”

“Each and every one of you will be called to do something in this life. We all need to realize that we are pencils in the hand of a divine creator. He uses us and loves us, even when we do not love and acknowledge Him in return. Some of you will be called to do great things, but all of us are called to do small things with great love.”


“Today graduates, I hope that I have challenged you to perhaps dare more boldly and to venture onto wider seas because the road to success is not straight. There is a curve called failure, a loop called confusion, speedbumps called friends, red lights called enemies and caution lights called family. You will have flats called jobs, but if you have a spare called determination, an engine called perseverance, insurance called faith and a driver called God, you will make it to a place called success and most importantly significance.”

McElveen-Hunter joins an extraordinary lineup of HPU Commencement speakers, including Daniel Lubetzky, founder of KIND Snacks; Cynt Marshall, CEO of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and HPU Sports Executive in Residence; Wolf Blitzer, lead political anchor at CNN; the 66th Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; broadcast legend Tom Brokaw; Gen. Colin Powell, former secretary of state, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and national security advisor; former First Lady Laura Bush; Josh Groban, internationally acclaimed singer, songwriter and actor; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple and HPU’s Innovator in Residence; Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan; NASA Astronaut Dr. Buzz Aldrin; and Muhtar Kent, CEO of the Coca-Cola Company.

HPU graduates have landed impressive full-time jobs and graduate school opportunities, and some of their stories can be found at These companies and graduate schools include JPMorgan Chase & Co., TikTok, Warner Bros., General Electric, Gartner, Coca-Cola Consolidated, Yale University, Northeastern University, Columbia University and many others.