Union County

McGee’s legacy will be 7,888 graduates

Jerry McGee was the keynote speaker at the May 16 Wingate University commencement. He will step down as the school’s president May 31.
Jerry McGee was the keynote speaker at the May 16 Wingate University commencement. He will step down as the school’s president May 31. KIM BECKNELL WILLIAMS

Jerry E. McGee ended his 23 year tenure as president at Wingate University by serving as keynote speaker at the school’s 119th commencement.

His official retirement date is May 31, and his speech allowed him one more chance to orate a powerful message May 16 to the students and families.

McGee recalled the beginning of his journey as Wingate’s president.

“In 1992, which seems like three months ago, my family and I were welcomed here to provide vision and leadership to a little college of about 1,000 students,” McGee said. “The excitement we felt was exhilarating because the presidential search committee had convinced us we were needed here to encourage the fine people of Wingate to dream big dreams.”

Much has happened during his tenure, including expanded educational programs, new buildings and dorms, new campuses in Hendersonville and Ballantyne, new graduate and undergraduate degrees, and added sports programs and facilities.

During the 23 years of McGee’s term, 7,888 students have earned degrees.

Unlike some institutions where an administrator might stay in an office, the students know McGee.

“Dr. McGee always had a very visible presence on campus. From the random strolls across campus to the various athletic events he attended, he always made it a point to be approachable and accessible to students,” said Junior Nyemb, a Wingate alum from Cameroon, West Africa, who graduated in 2010.

“My feelings were deepened a day when Dr. McGee approached me on campus to congratulate me on a soccer game we had won the night before. I was amazed at the fact he knew who I was, and even more that he knew me by name. As an international student it was truly a profound moment, the proof that I belonged.”

Originally from Rockingham, McGee’s job at Wingate found him not far from his hometown.

In his eagerness to always go to the next level, whether it was school, playing baseball or getting a job, he recalled his mother’s words: “Oh, my baby boy, calm down. Enjoy today. Don’t wish your life away. Too soon tomorrow comes.”

As Wingate’s ninth president and longest serving college president in North Carolina, the days of retirement are quickly approaching. Rhett Brown, Wingate’s vice president for student life and enrollment services, has been named as the next president to begin June 1.

“Dr. McGee has had an extraordinary tenure as Wingate’s president. His visionary influence is apparent everywhere you go on campus – facilities, programs, faculty and staff...you name it,” said Brown, who also is a Wingate alum. “While Wingate can’t do everything going forward, Dr. McGee has left us in a position where we can do anything we choose. It’s an incredible legacy.”

Kim Becknell Williams is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Kim? Email her at kimbecknellwilliams@gmail.com.