Hearing life's calling
by Anna Oakes
Until he was 16 years old, Pulitzer Prize winner Ayad Akhtar was destined, he thought, to be a neurologist -- a direction in which his parents, both physicians, steered him.
But in a matter of 15 seconds in a high school literature class, when a teacher explained the meaning behind a bizarre short story -- the terror that is the uncertainty of life -- Akhtar's calling became perfectly clear to him, he told students and others assembled at Appalachian State University's convocation ceremony Tuesday.
Akhtar, an award-winning playwright, actor and author of "American Dervish," ASU's summer reading book, said finding life's true vocation and calling requires a willingness to be open to new ideas.
"Be open. Be willing. Taking your development seriously can lead to rich rewards," said Akhtar, sharing advice with students.
"American Dervish" centers on one family's struggle to identify both as Muslim and American, a common theme in all of Akhtar's writings.
Akhtar was born in New York City and raised in Milwaukee, Wis. A first generation Pakistani American, Akhtar is a graduate of Brown and Columbia universities with degrees in theater and film directing. Since the 1990s, he has been a resident of New York City.
Introducing Akhtar at convocation was Simon Sibelman, the Leon Levine distinguished professor in Judaic, Holocaust and Peace Studies at ASU. Sibelman praised Akhtar's complex portrayals of Muslim-American identity in his writing and warned against the dangers of reducing anyone to two-dimensional stereotypes -- "an effortless path to confront that which we don't understand," he said.
Chancellor Ken Peacock presided over what is planned to be his last convocation as leader of ASU, which is now in its 114th year as an institution. Peacock earlier this year announced he would be stepping down, and a search committee has begun work to find his replacement.
ASU faculty, staff and alumni were recognized at the ceremony for their contributions to the university.
Scott Hunsinger, a professor in the Department of Computer Information Systems, received the 2013 UNC Board of Governors Award for Teaching Excellence.
Joy James, assistant professor in the Department of Health, Exercise and Leisure and Exercise Science, was honored as the UNC Board of Governors/Appalachian State University Excellence in Teaching Award recipient.
Recipients of the Board of Governors Appalachian State University School/College awards are: Kevin Kennedy, professor, Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures; Ray Miller, interim director, interdisciplinary studies program and professor, Department of Theatre and Dance; Liz Rose, professor, Hayes School of Music; Laurie Semmes, associate professor, Hayes School of Music; and Ray Williams, professor, Department of Biology.
The 2013 Appalachian Staff Award winners are Debbie Bauer, Center for Appalachian Studies; Amy Greer, Department of English; Misti Reese, Office of Admissions; and Keith Younce, Building Environmental Services.
Plemmons Leadership Medallion winners Lauren Brigman, James C.
Terrell III and Jim Street were also recognized.