All those late-night group study sessions, and coffee-filled mornings ended Friday for some 2,600 West Virginia University students as they received their diplomas and prepared to begin building their own futures.

“Today, you’re joining a legacy of success that reaches back almost 150 years. Each WVU graduate has a unique story — now it’s time to write yours,” retiring Vice President of Student Affairs Ken Gray told the August and December graduates in attendance at the WVU Coliseum.

“WVU has given you a chance to prepare yourselves to realize your dreams, so believe in yourselves, have a strong foundation of values that guides your everyday life, look back and draw strength from where you came from, work hard and don’t ever give up.”

Gray, who is retiring next year after 16 years in his position at WVU, told the graduates to “never, ever give up, because the obstacles you face won’t define you – but the way you respond to them will.” He spoke to the crowd of about 800 ecstatic graduates and their smiling family and friends of his “Five Cs” – commitment, competence, candor, courage and compassion – which allow those who portray those to become admirable leaders.

“All these qualities will serve you well in a marketplace that is growing ever more global, and a rapidly changing career landscape that constantly demands new skills,” he said.

Gray ended his speech by telling graduates to take risks, create a more peaceful and just world, choose to be an innovator, explore new perspectives and places, honor the sacrifices of others and never stop learning.

“And when people ask about the secret of your success — tell them you’re a Mountaineer,” he proudly stated.

Outgoing WVU President Jim Clements congratulated the graduates and said his own goodbyes, as he will be moving on to Clemson University in January.

Check out what our graduating students were saying on their graduation day in our Storify

During the ceremony, WVU Board of Governors Chairman Jim Dailey gave Clements a Mountaineer Statue in honor of his more than four years of service as president of the University.

“Many of you arrived on campus four years ago, a little bit nervous but mostly excited about the journey ahead. Four years ago, I was experiencing the same emotions as I assumed the presidency of WVU,” Clements said. “Today, my feelings unite with yours once again as I prepare to embark on a new journey.

“I think we’ll all find that, although we’re leaving this University, it will always, always have a special place in our hearts. When our paths cross in the future, if you yell, ‘Let’s Go …,’ I will never hesitate to give you a ‘Mountaineers!’ I hope that you will do the same!”

Click here to view the entire ceremony.

And then he led the crowd in three enthusiastic “Let’s go! ... ,” to which the graduates and friends responded with equally enthusiastic “Mountaineers!”

Students were also reflecting on their time at WVU – one they’ll never, ever forget.

“My time here has exceeded my expectations by far,” said graduating senior Melissa Lloyd, an animal and nutritional sciences major from Front Royal, Va. “I came here thinking that I wouldn’t make close relationships because of the size of the University. It’s been the exact opposite.

“It’s been outstanding, because the courses I’ve taken, the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had have all been amazing.”

Brittany Lavenski, a public relations student from Fairmont who graduated on Friday, says she’ll cherish the opportunities she was given at WVU.

“I’ve learned to take initiative. Opportunities exist, but it’s my responsibility to seek them out and grab hold of them with an iron fist. My experiences at WVU gave me confidence and passion – two skills that I know will benefit me in both my personal and professional life,” said Lavenski, who will begin work as a content strategist for an advertising agency soon. “I know I’ve worked hard enough to deserve great opportunities post-graduation. I’m ready to own it.”

Goodbye to these hard-working, dedicated students, and welcome to the proud and accomplished alumni they’ve turned into. Congratulations!

-WVU-

td/12/20/13

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