WINGATE — As 200 or so Wingate University graduates get ready to don their caps and gowns and collect their degrees on Dec. 16, the 1960 class valedictorian is preparing to share with them a word of encouragement.
Dr. Thomas Koontz will address the class – over half of whom are earning graduate degrees — and their guests at the 9 a.m. Commencement inside Austin Auditorium. It is the university’s second fall graduation.
Having planned to start his college career at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the vascular surgeon and philanthropist said he’s not sure he would have accomplished what he has had it not been for his two years at Wingate College, where he played basketball, served in student government and found an uncommon camaraderie.
“My friends, professors and especially Coach (Francis) Essic really impacted me and made me want to do life well and do it the right way, with integrity and respect for others,” Koontz said. “Coach Essic always encouraged me to go after my dream of going to medical school and becoming a surgeon.”
After finishing his two years at Wingate, Koontz received the Morehead Scholarship from UNC, where he double-majored in history and pre-medicine and went on to med school. He completed his internship and surgery residency at Yale and then served as a major in the U.S. Air Force, in Florida, before returning to the Tar Heel State.
For 35 years Koontz practiced as a vascular surgeon at Salem Surgical Associates in Winston-Salem, and in 1993 he helped start Doctors Care, a major outreach project that helps the working poor receive low-cost health care. The program has given away more than $25 million worth of medical services in the Winston-Salem area.
A member of the Wingate Board of Trustees, Koontz received the Wingate University Distinguished Alumni Award in 2009. He is a charter member of the Bulldog Club, and five years ago Wingate dedicated the Thomas Koontz Family Court inside Cuddy Arena. Koontz and his wife, Lynne, have a daughter, Jennifer Koontz Berg, and two grandchildren.
After Koontz’s address, the following degrees will be awarded: bachelor of arts, bachelor of music education, bachelor of science, bachelor of liberal studies, master of business administration, master of arts in education, master of arts in sports medicine, master of arts in teaching, master of physician assistant studies, education specialist, doctor of education and doctor of physical therapy. Faculty awards and an honorary degree will be presented, none of which will be announced until the ceremony.
Sarah Danielle Summers of the Class of 2019 will perform the alma mater, and PA graduate Zachary Chad Greer will give the benediction.
Seating is available in Austin Auditorium with a ticket. A live-feed of the ceremony will be available in the Batte Center’s McGee Theatre for those without a ticket. A reception will follow the graduation ceremony in the Batte Center Rotunda.