UNC Charlotte student looks back on academic journey as fall commencement nears

When Hannah Flowers gets her degree Saturday at the UNC Charlotte fall commencement, she’ll look back over a nonstop educational journey.

Among the youngest of the more than 3,300 graduates, the 19-year-old student from Mount Holly never took a break.

Flowers went to classes as soon as she hit the university campus. Afterward, she taught fiddle lessons and worked as a paralegal at a Charlotte law office. And she also spent time on the road playing fiddle in the Flowers Family Band and the legendary WBT Briarhoppers hillbilly band.

“She’s driven,” Phil Flowers said of his daughter. “My wife and I are proud of all our kids. Hannah just happens to have an incredible amount of determination.”

Graduating magna cum laude, Flowers will receive a bachelor’s degree in sociology during Saturday’s ceremony at Halton Arena. She enrolled at UNC Charlotte in the fall of 2013 after graduating from Gaston College with a two-year associate of arts degree.

Along with her parents, two sisters and brother, Flowers moved to the Charlotte area from Orange County, Calif., in 1996. Her father, who runs a tree business, developed an interest in bluegrass music.

Flowers’ older sister, Alana, learned how to play banjo. At age 5, Hannah tried the fiddle and felt an instant connection. A year later, she won $100 performing the old fiddle tune “Orange Blossom Special” at Cross Country Campground in Denver.

Alana joined the Briarhoppers in 2009. Hannah and her brother Dillon, who plays mandolin, joined in 2011.

Organized in the 1930s by WBT announcer Charles Crutchfield, who coined the folksy name, the Briarhoppers were Carolina superstars. The old band revived in the 1970s and as members died they were replaced.

Adding the Flowers family members gave the band an infusion of young blood.

“They bring a new spirit to a long-lasting tradition,” said band member Tom Warlick, author of “The WBT Briarhoppers.” “The kids – I call them kids – are level-headed, which is a credit to their parents. Hannah has proven that’s she’s one of the best fiddler players and best singers in the business.”

They play mostly on weekends at shows around the Carolinas – schools and other small venues like the Feed and Seed in Fletcher. Larger venues included MerleFest and the International Bluegrass Music Association festival in downtown Raleigh. In August, the band played at the Briarhoppers 80th birthday celebration at the McGlohon Theater at Charlotte’s Spirit Square.

“I was submerged in music,” Hannah said . “I like all kinds. Music is the only hobby I have.”

All the Flowers children were home-schooled. After graduating from Belmont Abbey in 2010, Alana went to work as a paralegal at a Charlotte law firm and Hannah got a job there doing secretarial work while she was a student at Gaston College.

When the legal work slowed, she used the time to read and study.

Her self-discipline caught the eye of Charlotte lawyer William Parise. He’d developed a niche business doing title searches for large title companies and banks. As a sole practitioner, he needed help. Parise wondered if the young woman he’d noticed using her time so well might work out, even though she knew nothing about title searches.

In October 2013, Parise made a decision.

“I took a chance and hired her,” he said. “She’s incredibly hardworking, focused and reliable. I have to remind myself she is 19.”

Flowers fit the part-time job into an already busy schedule and learned quickly. A self-starter, she became an invaluable contributor to the operation.

“She’s the real deal,” Parise said. “I consider her a full member of my firm.”

Flowers will begin working full-time at his firm in January.

At UNC Charlotte, Flowers impressed teachers such as Barbara Thiede, senior lecturer in the department of religious studies.

“Hannah is very bright and thoughtful,” Thiede said. “She is ethical, responsible and mature. She cares about this world. I don’t have to worry if people like Hannah are in charge of the world when I’m old.”

As Flowers takes stock of things, she feels lucky. She’s headed to a full-time position in an area she once knew nothing about. Also, she’ll have more time to play music. For her, not going to school will feel like a break.

On graduation day, she’ll think more about all the hard work she put in than the extracurricular activities she missed.

“My social life hasn’t gotten as much attention as academics,” she said. “But I’ve got the rest of my life to do the fun stuff.”