Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020-21 academic year heralded many “firsts” at Pfeiffer University, including multiple small graduation ceremonies over four days.
The 2020-21 academic year was also the last year of Jack Ingram’s distinguished and multifaceted career at Pfeiffer University.
Ingram, Class of 1974, served his alma mater for 44 years as a coach, as Deputy Athletic Director, and as Department Chair for the Sports Management program. On May 15, he encouraged the most recent graduates of Pfeiffer’s business programs to persevere and to never burn bridges.
In addition, “somebody helped you get where you are today,” he said. “Remember those people and tell them thank you. The best way to tell them thank you is in person if you can.”
Ingram made these remarks as the keynote speaker at one of six commencement ceremonies held May 13-16 in Merner Gymnasium on Pfeiffer’s Misenheimer campus. He described key moments of his life as a Pfeiffer student and employee to illuminate how perseverance and maintaining good relations with others has fueled his success.
For example, multiple injuries derailed Ingram’s once-promising career as a basketball player at Pfeiffer. However, he remained on friendly terms with Tom Childress, the basketball coach who recruited him. In time, Childress introduced Ingram to teaching and coaching by hiring him as a swimming instructor for classes in Pfeiffer’s pool, and as the school’s athletic director, Childress later hired him for positions in coaching and athletics administration.
In addition to teaching and working in athletics administration at Pfeiffer, Ingram successfully coached women’s basketball, and he started the softball program, which also did quite well under his guidance. Ingram Field, the home of Pfeiffer’s softball team, is named for him.
Ingram still epitomizes perseverance. As he told the commencement audience, he tested positive for Covid in early December and was hospitalized for 82 days. He thanked the Pfeiffer community for praying for him.
“If he tells you to persevere, you can be sure you’ve heard encouragement from the embodiment of perseverance,” Dr. Scott Bullard, Pfeiffer’s President, said after Ingram had finished speaking.
Before Ingram’s address, Bullard called him and his wife, Nancy MacDade Ingram ’80, to the stage, where he invited the audience to join him in thanking the Ingrams for their service to the University. Nancy, who majored in education and played field hockey at Pfeiffer, taught at schools near the University for 20 years.
The Ingrams “have poured themselves into making this a fine institution,” Bullard said. “They’re there (at games). They show up for the students and they root them on. If they win, they pat them on the back. If the students lose, they say, ‘Get ’em next time,’ and they’re there the next time.”
Traditionally, Pfeiffer holds a single undergraduate commencement ceremony on a Saturday morning in May. There’s also an August commencement near Pfeiffer’s Charlotte campus, for those completing Pfeiffer’s graduate and degree completion programs.
This spring, however, the University held multiple scaled-back ceremonies, each of which aimed to shield participants and audience members from what Bullard called “COVID 19 and all of its tentacles still lingering with us.” Attendance for each ceremony was limited to four ticketed guests for each graduate, and everyone involved agreed to follow such protocols as wearing masks, social distancing and temperature checks.
Each ceremony was devoted to different groups of majors. Bachelor’s degrees went to Class of 2021 grads, and at a ceremony on May 16, bachelor’s and master’s degrees were awarded for Class of 2020 grads who were unable to participate in their own commencement ceremony because of the pandemic.
Bullard served as the keynote speaker at each of the five other commencement ceremonies. He urged the graduates to “respect everyone,” calling these words “the two most important...I’ve learned in life.”
He also suggested that the “respect everyone” way is grounded in Biblical teaching. He quoted Matthew 5:44, a verse in which Jesus says, “But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you.”
When Bullard says respect everyone, he means the person whose cell phone rings at an inopportune moment. Or the food-service worker at the drive-through window who gets an order wrong. Or the guy who lets you know that he takes exception to your politics. Or the person with less education than that of a Pfeiffer student.
Respecting everyone “may have as much to do with your success and your happiness and your substance than anything you’ve spent thousands of dollars to learn at Pfeiffer,” Bullard said.
Ken Keuffel, who authored this article, has served as Pfeiffer’s Assistant Director of Communications since December 2019. He welcomes story ideas from Pfeiffer’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends. The form for submitting story ideas is at www.pfeiffer.edu/newsform.