Students from Lenoir-Rhyne University's Asheville Center celebrated commencement on Saturday, May 12, during a ceremony at the Orange Peel on Biltmore Avenue. With over 60 students receiving master's degrees, it was the Center's largest graduating class since opening in 2012.
"Commencement symbolizes Lenoir-Rhyne's deep commitment to providing graduate education in western North Carolina," said Michael Dempsey, Ed.D., dean and director of the Asheville Center. "Our students are working professionals who are passionate about changing the world for the better. It is always an honor to celebrate their achievements."
An honorary doctorate degree was presented to Oralene Simmons, president of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Association of Asheville and Buncombe County. Simmons speaks globally about her journey in civil rights along a path of non-violence in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A native of western North Carolina, she is the former co-chair of the North Carolina State Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission.
"It is truly an honor to receive such prestigious recognition from Lenoir-Rhyne University," Simmons said. "I believe receiving this degree will bring hope which will open the doors of opportunity, and help change the future for others."
In 1961, Simmons became the first African American student enrolled at Mars Hill College. Over a century prior, in 1856, her great-grandfather, Joseph Anderson, was a slave held as collateral to guarantee a loan used to build the college. Simmons gained worldwide recognition for integrating the traditionally all-white school, and was honored alongside Mrs. Coretta Scott King at the United Nations headquarters in New York City in 1990.
Simmons has been honored by the federal MLK Commission with the Making of the King Holiday Award, and was featured as a young leader in Jet and Time magazines. In 2016, she received North Carolina's distinguished Order of the Long Leaf Pine award, as well as Asheville Citizen-Times's Women Making History/Women Who Have Changed Asheville award. The Buncombe County Commission named April 11, Oralene Simmons Day, in recognition of her dedication to human rights and dignity.
About the Asheville Center
Lenoir-Rhyne's Asheville Center expands the University's mission by serving the specific needs of western North Carolina and beyond. The Center offers graduate degree and adult learner programs, designed to allow students to balance life, work, and learning, with online and distance options available. The Center recently celebrated the grand opening of its newly renovated 6,900 square feet of space which added two classrooms, one seminar room, an entrepreneurship mentoring space, and seven offices.
LR's Asheville Center is located downtown, and offers degrees unique to the area such as a Master of Business Administration in Non Profit Management, a Master of Business Administration in Social Entrepreneurship, and a Master of Science in Sustainability Studies among others.
To learn more about LR's Asheville Center, visit lr.edu/Asheville.