Lucky graduates have offers and options to consider, possibilities and maybe even commitments that give shape or direction to their first steps into the so called “real world.”

Melissa Collazo may have received the best offer of any West Virginia University graduate this weekend.

Collazo’s boyfriend, Estevan Herrera, made a surprise wedding proposal during Sunday’s commencement ceremonies at WVU’s Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design at the WVU Coliseum.

Collazo’s engagement was one of the highlights of a weekend full of milestones at WVU’s 142nd commencement. About 4,000 students graduated from the main campus in May and an estimated 30,000 family members were in town for the weekend celebration.

Herrera, who graduated from WVU’s College of Business and Economics in 2010 and is a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, made a special trip from Tyndall Air Force base in Panama City, Fla., where he is training. He hung out with members of his and Collazo’s family this weekend, but told only his mother about his plan to propose at commencement.

Webcasts of each Commencement ceremony are available here.

At the beginning of the ceremony, Herrera slipped away from the family members, presumably to sit with friends. Instead he changed into his military uniform and waited secretly in the wings.

As Collazo received her diploma, Herrera met her on the stage, dropped to one knee, presented the engagement ring and popped the question.

“I didn’t know until I was walking up (to the stage) and I was like, ‘Why are you here?,’ ” Collazo said between laughter and tears of joy. “I didn’t know. I’m in shock.”

The stunned audience broke into applause when Dean Cameron Hackney approached the microphone and said, “Yes, that was a marriage proposal, and she said, ‘yes.’ “

Herrera had originally planned to propose in a romantic setting such as a Florida beach, but time and obligation steered him toward Morgantown. When he asked the Collazos for permission to marry their daughter, Melissa’s mother had only one request.

“She said, ‘If there’s any way, I’d really like to see it,’ ” Herrera said. “I wanted to make that happen.”

Click to hear 2010 WVU alumnus Estevan Herrera talk about the planning behind his idea to surprise girlfriend Melissa Collazo with a wedding proposal during her commencement and what it means to them and their families to become engaged at WVU.

WVU officials believe Herrera is the first to propose marriage during a WVU commencement.

Former sweethearts at Ringgold High School outside of Pittsburgh, the romance continued in college.

Collazo, a fashion design and merchandising major who specializes in wedding planning, begins an internship at Kleinfeld in New York next month. Herrera will continue training at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Families came to Morgantown this weekend from near and far, as did the graduates.

Click to hear WVU grad Melissa Collazzo's reaction to a surprise wedding proposal from her boyfriend Estevan Herrera.

Samanvitha Ramayanam, who completed a master’s degree in computer science, came to WVU from India and soon became known simply “Sam,” as she fit in quickly to her new surroundings. That wasn’t the only transformation Ramayanam experienced.

“Everything about this university is just so great,” she said at Thursday’s international students’ reception, flanked by her parents who came all the way from India for the occasion. “It has helped me in growing as a person, it has given me a chance to meet wonderful people and in learning so many great new things about life.

“I believe I made the right decision by joining WVU as this school has provided me with wonderful academics. I have had a great number of good professors who have helped me in learning new things. The knowledge that I have gained here in this school is going to help me be successful in a competitive world. Thanks WVU, for helping me achieve my dreams.”

WVU has helped men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins fulfill his dreams but he’s still on a quest to fulfill the dreams of the University and state.

Speaking at the College of Physical Activity and Sport Science ceremony, Huggins, a Morgantown native and former WVU basketball player and academic All-American, wove tales of his career with quotes from others about graduation. Huggins said his goal has always been to be the best.

Click to hear WVU men's basketball coach Bob Huggins give advice to CPASS graduates.

“When I came here I said I wanted to win a national championship and people kind of look at you funny, and we had a chance,” he said, referring to the Mountaineers’ Final Four run of 2009-2010. “We didn’t quite get it done yet but we had a chance. When I went to Cincinnati, they said, ‘What do you see for the program.’ I said, ‘I want to win a national championship,’ and they laughed at me. They said, ‘why would you say that?’

“You know what John F. Kennedy said when they asked him to run for vice president? His reply was, ‘Why should I settle for second when first is available?’ And that’s what I’ve always thought.”

Along with aiming high, Huggins said graduates should take pride in their education and in their connection with WVU and the state. He emphasized how important the University is to people throughout the state and how its graduates and sports teams are embraced.

Click to hear former WVU men's basketball player Joe Mazzulla and CPASS graduate talks about the attributes he admires in coach Bob Huggins.

Joe Mazzulla, who graduated with a master’s in athletic coaching Sunday, introduced Huggins and credited him with his success on and off the court.

“It was because of coach Huggins that I was able to complete my college career with all of its ups and downs,” Mazzulla said. “Because of his influence, I was able to complete my undergrad degree in 3 years. It is also because of him that I’m able to stand here in front of you today and receive something five or six years ago I never would have thought I could have achieved – my master’s degree.”

Commencement at the College of Engineering and Mineral Resources featured two of WVU’s three honorary degree recipients.

Click below to hear George Bennett tell College of Engineering and Mineral Resources graduates what WVU means to him.

George Bennett, an engineering alumnus who has been a leading visionary and entrepreneur for the past 35 years, offered a simple charge to the graduates: “take initiative.”

He relayed two stories, one from his own experience and one a fictionalized account, to illustrate the importance of recognizing opportunities and taking advantage of them:

He talked about two bricklayers who were asked to describe their jobs. One replied “bricklayer” while the other said he was “helping to build a magnificent skyscraper.” The second response indicates a better vision and world view than merely offering a job description.

Click below to hear Bennett's advice to CEMR graduates.

“You are launching into a world that is convulsing with opportunity,” Bennett said. “Math and science and engineering are once again recognized as key ingredients for a thriving economy. The pace of change is breathtaking. My advice to you is to advance into the chaos. Be fearless. Take initiative and have fun.”

Click below to hear Bennett's closing charge to CEMR graduates.

Henry T. Yang, an alumnus and accomplished leader in higher education and the field of aeronautical engineering, repeated several visionary quotes about science and engineering, including one from Vannevar Bush, former dean of engineering at MIT.

“In 1945, [Bush] wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as part of his famous report on ‘Science, the Endless Frontier,’ ” Yang said.

Click below to hear Yang tell CEMR grads about his arrival at WVU.

“He wrote, ‘The pioneer spirit is still vigorous within this nation. Scientific progress is one essential key to our security as a nation, to our better health, to more jobs, to a higher standard of living, and to our cultural progress.’

“What Vannevar Bush said 66 years ago, is even more true today.”

Yang also recognized Charles Vest, MIT president emeritus and a member of WVU’s Academy of Distinguished Alumni, who attended the ceremony. Vest was the recipient of the National Science Board’s 2011 Vannevar Bush Award for his distinguished public service leadership in science and technology.

Click below to hear John Unger describe how he learned the value of respect while assisting Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India.

John Unger, a WVU Rhodes and Truman scholar elected to the West Virginia Senate at the age of 28, told Honors College graduates of his time working with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India.

It was the early 1990s and monsoons had flooded the area. Riots broke out. Mother Teresa put him in charge of a six-block area. He was 21 years old and didn’t speak the local language.

“I said, ‘Mother, there’s disease and dying everywhere, people are being uprooted and killed, and I don’t feel like I’m making a difference,’” he told her. ”’I’m too young, too inexperienced; please put somebody else in charge. I’d be more than willing to help that person.’”

He added, “She patiently listened to me, and after I finished she said something that I’ve tried to come to live by. She said, ‘John, God doesn’t call us to do great things,’” he recounted. ”’God calls us to do small things with great love. Trust in the Lord because through these struggles he will show you his glory. And we all have a responsibility for each other.”

It is this responsibility that is so important in life, he said, along with respect and reasoning.

Click below to hear West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple tell graduates at the College of Human Resources & Education what the best day of our lives can be.

Jorea Marple, West Virginia’s Superintendent of Schools, told the graduates of the College of Human Resources and Education about her own post-college experience when she went to teach at Mannington Elementary in a coal community that had just lost 78 miners when the Consol No. 9 mine exploded.

“It was then that I realized firsthand that my role as an educator was to provide more than book knowledge; it was to counsel and to provide guidance and help children overcome the challenges that they had in order to become successful, just like you,” Marple said.

“Some of you may become teachers, others will help children as counselors and as speech therapists and as audiologists and some of you might not ever work in the public school system.

“But I am confident that there will be children in your lives, whether your own children or your family’s children or your neighbor’s children, and they will all be special. But some of them may be sick or may be lonely and impoverished with little control over their fate. What you do or don’t do will make a difference in their lives.”

At the “School of Medicine”http://www.hsc.wvu.edu/som commencement, Dean Arthur Ross spoke about the importance of serving others and the altruism behind their Hippocratic oath. Of all the grades they earned through medical school, the most important is the “A” of altruism, he said.

Offering good wishes from two very different people, he quoted Dr. William Osler a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University in 1903, who said, “May this day be to each of you the beginning of a happy life and a happy calling,” and Dr. Seuss, “You’re off to great places. Today is your day. Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way.”

Click below to hear Professor Gregory Bowman discuss the pivotal role the College of Law graduates will play in our country's life.

Gregory Bowman, the College of Law’s Professor of the Year, gave the graduates praise, encouragement and a look at the future. He directed his remarks to the family and friends of the graduates, asking that they be even prouder than they are of this new crop of lawyers. But he also said that this next year in the graduates’ lives would be the toughest of their careers. Through that year they need the support of those in the audience, he said, but ultimately, he knew the graduates were up to the challenge.

As they left the Creative Arts Center that day, they were headed in many different directions, but he urged them to advocate for the state that nurtured them.

“What a state needs to really change, to really improve, to take it to the next level as they say is to have advocates both inside the state and outside the state,” Bowman said. Those advocates I believe are sitting on the stage before you today. I have high hopes and high expectations for them. I do not think they will let us down.”

Click below to hear Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes tell professional graduates from the School of Medicine what she learned from failing at an international level.

Dominique Dawes, the most decorated gymnast on the U.S. women’s Olympic team and the first African-American gymnast to qualify and compete in the U.S. Olympics, told the School of Medicine’s professional programs graduates that their most powerful tool is their mind.

She recalled her time at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, dwelling not on her gold medal performance, but of her fall on a relatively simple part of her floor routine. She fell in front of 50,000 people in the Georgia Dome.

“It was the best lesson I learned throughout my athletic career,” Dawes said.

“If your mind is satisfied with 70 or 80 percent effort more than likely in life you will achieve 70- or 80-percent outcome. It all starts from up here.”

Click below to hear Brooke Gladstone speak about the many possibilities that journalism grads have today.

At the P.I. Reed School of Journalism ceremony, Brooke Gladstone, co-host and managing editor of National Public Radio’s “On the Media” show, told grads not to panic while facing a changing media landscape and a world of stiff competition.

Just as the media has evolved from the days of the penny press, she said, it has changed to allow many technologies and many voices while still holding fast to uncovering corruption and explaining the world.

“The world is full of liars and cheats,” she said. “It is in desperate need of people who believe, who honestly believe, that the truth can set us free. Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist Anna Quindlen once said that being a reporter is as much a diagnosis as it is a job description.

“I believe that. I really do. I need to do what I do; I process the world this way; I record everything. I don’t understand anything until I’ve explained it to someone else. So if that’s your diagnosis, I salute you. May there never be a cure.”

At Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, Dean Robert Jones jokingly thanked the grads on behalf of the City for their contributions to the parking meters and pizza shops – but got serious about the critical thinking skills they acquired at WVU.

“You are among the most adaptable and capable people on earth to deal with the challenges and opportunities caused by increasingly global connectivity, rapid advances in technology and growing human populations,” he said.

Approximately 2,175 students from Eberly graduated Sunday, he added, among them a 19-year-old and a 67-year-old.

WVU also awarded an honorary degree to alumnus Thomas Menighan, who spoke at the School of Pharmacy’s commencement. Each honorary degree recipient received a doctorate of science.

WVU honored four of its loyal supporters with Order of Vandalia, the highest honor awarded for extraordinary service to the University. This year’s recipients are Charles Erickson, Douglas Leech, Verl Purdy and Sen. Jay Rockefeller

-WVU-

ds/05/15/11

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