Not long before graduating from their small North Carolina high schools, Emily Fletcher and Cashie Naylor met during an event for incoming freshmen to NC State University’s College of Natural Resources. Fletcher’s first words to Naylor: “Are you Cashie from Facebook?”
The two soon went through scholarship interviews together, then orientation on the university’s campus. This year, for the first time, as NC State seniors, they have been roommates.
On Saturday afternoon at Reynolds Coliseum, each will receive a bachelor’s degree from the College of Natural Resources. Those degrees were earned in the same major – parks, recreation and tourism management with a concentration in sustainable tourism – and are accompanied by the same minor in business administration. The women will be wearing identical commencement regalia, including gold sashes indicative of graduating summa cum laude, cords designating their membership in honorary society Rho Phi Lambda and their participation as senior donors on NC State Day of Giving, and medals for completing the Tradition Keeper program.
Fletcher and Naylor took the majority of their classes together. And their college experiences have been heavily shaped by study abroad, hands-on projects and scholarship support.
“We’re kind of college soul mates, as far as fate and faith bringing us together to get through these four years together,” Naylor said.
“Truly, we value the same things and we have the same general world views. We’re basically the same person,” Fletcher joked.
Well, not entirely the same person.
Fletcher hails from King, a town straddling the Forsyth and Stokes county line northwest of Winston-Salem. She applied to several colleges, but NC State always was her first choice.
“I was really attracted by how large it is – very different from my high school – with so much diversity and so much culture,” she said. “Then there was CNR. The faculty just took such a personal interest in students and there were so many connections to organizations around Raleigh, which enables students to have such a hands-on experience. I was excited about all of that.”
One of her most impactful experiences was studying abroad, a chance Fletcher had dreamed about since at least sixth grade. The faculty-led, three-week trip to France and Italy focused on the impacts of tourism and sport. The group attended the Monaco Grand Prix Historic Races and the Cannes Film Festival, kayaked in the Mediterranean and hiked in the French Alps to study cross-cultural management and how to manage social, economic and environmental impacts on a global scale.
“That trip came near the beginning of college and really set the entire tone for me,” Fletcher said. “I’d always been interested in travel and I’d been to other countries, although not to Europe. The trip helped confirm my career direction.”
Naylor took that influential trip as well.
She grew up in the Sampson County community of Spivey’s Corner and originally headed to NC State with an interest in agritourism. Her college experiences shifted her focus a bit, toward international, educational tourism.
“That time in Italy and France really opened my eyes,” Naylor said. “It led to me spending a full semester in Ireland, which was such an immersive, incredible five months. It really helped me start to understand other mindsets and pulled me even more out of my comfort zone.”
There have been other shared opportunities, including serving as CNR Ambassadors and as Culture to Culture Ambassadors, completing a study of Americans with Disabilities Act compliance at a nearby hotel, planning youth programs at Jaycee Community Center on Wade Avenue and participating in various career-related conferences.
“CNR does so much with projects and partnerships,” Naylor said. “It’s great.”
The pair enjoyed separate activities as well, of course. Fletcher was a Bragaw Residence Hall Council member and later, a resident adviser in the Global Living and Learning Village. Naylor loved being an orientation leader. For their major’s required 400-hour internship – one of their most challenging NC State assignments – they did different things, with Fletcher working at Mount Rushmore and Naylor working within the college’s administrative offices.
They are grateful for donor support that shaped their NC State years. Having a Chancellor’s Leadership Scholarship, CNR’s Philip B. Jackson Memorial Scholarship and a State Employees Credit Union Scholarship allowed Naylor to graduate debt-free and to embrace experiences like study abroad. Fletcher had a Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management scholarship and funding through the college’s Legends in Giving Scholarship and its Terry Student Assistance and Enrichment Fund.
“It shows that people care about students here and how we’re striving and hoping to have an impact,” Fletcher said. “People want to help us accomplish our goals.”
Naylor’s first stop on her way to those goals is New York City for the summer to work for the EF High School Student Exchange Year program. She’ll spend September through December working in Greece for Northeastern University’s study abroad program. “Then in January, who knows?” she said. Fletcher is pursuing opportunities in international trip planning, whether that be for students, families or corporations.
Both feel well prepared for what’s ahead.
“I was literally so scared to even talk to other people when I got here,” Fletcher said. “Now I can talk to 200 at a time to give a presentation.”
“I feel more up to challenges. As a freshman, I didn’t know if I could handle planning an event or traveling alone. I’m so much more confident in my abilities as I leave NC State,” Naylor said.
As they posed together for a few graduation photos near the Belltower, Fletcher and Naylor said, fittingly: “We did it.”
This post was originally published in Giving News.