Skip to main content

Cockerill inspires WC faculty and staff with her 'Why Wilmington?' moment

The Highland County Press - Staff Photo - Create Article
Corey Cockerill is pictured with her cousin, Joshua Keith, on the day of his graduation from Wilmington College in 2015. (Submitted photos)
Randy Sarvis, Wilmington College

Each year in mid-August, Wilmington College's faculty and staff assemble for the Opening Year Meeting. It historically hosts a gathering of campus colleagues, many of whom might not have seen one another since commencement, while also introducing new employees, recognizing service milestones and setting the tone for the new academic year. Classes start on Monday (Aug. 21).

Interim President Corey Cockerill hearkened the College's Latin motto, which translates, "Not by a leap, but by many small steps." She said the mantra reflects the College's approach to the work to be done in the coming year.

"We recognize that meaningful progress is achieved through thoughtful, deliberate actions," she added. "Each step we take, whether in refining our curricula, reaching new audiences, enhancing our campus or strengthening our community ties, builds upon the last.

"Though our steps are small, they have enormous impact."

Cockerill stressed the outcome of those collective small steps through the years is manifested in the success of the College's students. She cited several "Why Wilmington?" testimonials.

Dillon Davidson, an agriculture graduate from the Class of 2017, wrote, "It's the faculty, staff, students, alumni and endless opportunities that made Wilmington special to me. I had the ability to pave my own path into where I am today, making a difference worldwide."

Tammy Zimmerman, an education graduate, Class of 1997, said, "Wilmington College always had a hometown feeling, where friends felt more like family. It seemed that the students and staff alike valued relationships, and challenged success, all while helping each other maintain root principles and values. It definitely was the best place for me!"

Cockerill said the WC "magic" continues, as evidenced by these words from Justin Beckner, a current agriculture and education student. "The reason I came to Wilmington was for the freedom to learn in more than one way. I'm given the opportunity to learn in multiple environments not just restricted to standard lectures."

Cockerill shared that her personal "Why Wilmington?" moment has similar threads but goes deeper.

Several years after she joined the faculty, Cockerill's young nephew, Joshua Keith, arrived at WC in the fall of 2011. Initially, he was rather disengaged. He singularly focused on agriculture, went home every weekend to help on the family farm and he rarely connected with others — including his cousin — outside the classroom.

"It was his sophomore year when he started to come out of his shell," Cockerill recalled.

Keith joined the Aggies and quickly began challenging his comfort zone. He took a course in religion and philosophy, attended his first unprogrammed Quaker meeting and lobbied a member of Congress on Farm Bill legislation. He continued exploring new opportunities presented to him during his junior and senior years.

Keith participated in the WC Theatre's production of “Urinetown,” organized a first-ever Haunted Trail Halloween attraction at the College Farm and traveled on a College trip to Costa Rica.

 "Heaven on earth" were the words Joshua Keith used in describing the cloud forest at the Continental Divide in Costa Rica, where he and Corey Cockerill posed for this photo.

Cockerill led that trip to Monte Verde. She fondly recalled standing with her cousin in a cloud forest on the Continental Divide. Keith described the breathtaking view of this personally discovered land as "heaven on earth."

"Wilmington College did not just help Joshua complete a degree or land a job," Cockerill said. "Wilmington College changed Joshua's worldview and entire life trajectory.”

Sadly, with a promising future ahead, Keith lost his life in a boating accident three months after his graduation.

"I try not to be sad about it because I remember how much Wilmington College affected him in his short life," she said. "It is students like Joshua who represent 'Why Wilmington?' We really do a remarkable job at educating, inspiring and preparing. We steward. We coach. We nudge. We reach with them."

Cockerill effectively revealed that working at the College is, for many, more than a job — it's a calling. Indeed, as Chip Murdock, director of diversity + inclusion, said, “Faculty and staff get to rather than got to work with students, and seeing them graduate is our true payday.”

"Our journey is tethered to our mission, vision and core values, and together we are walking a path toward excellence, taking the time to learn and grow in ways that honor our tradition," Cockerill told her fellow faculty and staff members.

"As we move forward, not by a sudden leap but by small intentional steps, I feel a profound sense of optimism and pride," she added. "We are united in our mission to educate, inspire and prepare. Look around — there couldn't be a more capable team.”