When Erin Banks graduated from college a semester early last December, she thought her work at Peace was done. This week, she got one final assignment from Provost Debbie Cottrell – to give a speech at Commencement in May.
Banks, an English major from Morehead City, N.C., was named the Valedictorian for 2011 on Monday after earning a perfect 4.0 GPA at Peace.
"I was excited," Banks said. "It really is a great honor."
With her course work done at Peace, Banks wasn’t sure why Cottrell needed to meet with her Monday but said she was pleasantly surprised with the news.
"I was thinking, ‘What did I do? I don’t think she can take my diploma back,’" Banks joked. "But I was very excited about it."
It wasn’t always Banks’ goal to be valedictorian. In fact, her success at Peace started out as nervousness about college. Not sure how much effort her coursework would require, Banks dedicated herself to trying her best during her freshman year. After earning a 4.0 for her first semester, she thought she’d try to keep it going.
"It just became a challenge for myself," Banks said.
Banks was homeschooled through high school and said her strong work ethic came from her parents, Rev. David and Jerri Banks. She also said piano instructor Dr. Margaret Evans pushed her to pursue excellence when she was younger.
"She had a quote by Aristotle on the bulletin board outside of her door and it said ‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence therefore is not an act but a habit,’" Banks remembered. "That’s really the way she treated music and everything. Between her instilling that in me in piano and my mom and dad really instilling that in me in my other studies … that really built my work ethic."
The small class sizes and sense of community at Peace also helped Banks get the best out of her college experience. She mentioned how often the intimate classroom experience at Peace fostered better discussions in classes like Images of Women and Music Theory — two of her favorites.
"I like that about Peace — the small classroom sizes, the fact that people know each other," Banks said. "People are a lot more apt to speak up when you have good discussions and that’s what makes going to class fun."
Banks hopes to be a college English professor some day but is planning on working for at least a year before applying to graduate programs. She also mentioned being interested in teaching English at the high school level.
"I’m not sure where (I’ll apply for grad school)," Banks said. "Maybe stay in the area. Maybe look at Chapel Hill or Duke since they offer a doctoral program. But for now I’ll probably keep the part-time jobs I have and look for a full-time one I might like."
Banks also wanted to thank her extended family and friends for their support during her college career.
"If it wasn’t for them I would not have made it to this point," Banks said.