From a race car driver to a puppeteer, the latest batch of West Virginia University Mountaineers crossed the threshold from student to college graduate today (Dec. 16) at the close of another academic semester.
Likening the new graduates to superheroes, President E. Gordon Geeencouraged them to use their “special talents” to do good in the world, but, above all, to be true to themselves.
“Whether you are preparing to continue your education or start your career, you can go as far as your dreams take you,” Gee said. “You may struggle about what to do next and how to make your mark in this volatile world, but you are never really alone, because you take the fellowship of more than 200,000 other Mountaineers with you.”
Friday’s ceremony in the WVU Coliseum, honored the 2,888 students who became part of that alumni corps in August and December.
In addition, Mazin Jumaah, president of Royal University for Women in Bahrain, was presented with an honorary doctorate from President Gee. Jumaah has been instrumental in building and strengthening the relationship between RUW and WVU.
Travis Braden graduated with degrees in both mechanical and aerospace engineering, completing them while driving the 01 Flying WV Chevy car on the Automobile Racing Club of America racing circuit. He plans to continue chasing his dream of driving a stock car on the NASCAR circuit.
As Braden and other graduates made their way across the stage to accept their diplomas, families erupted in cheers and applause. Occasionally, an individual voice could be heard from a far corner of the Coliseum with a shout of “We love you,” or “Way to go, Hal.” Cameras flashed as friends and loved ones snapped photos of the moment.
Another of WVU’s special talents, Sean McWilliams, the ceremony’s keynote speaker and an assistant professor in the WVU Department of Physics and Astronomy, stressed that graduates should utilize their newfound knowledge and abilities to work together toward a common goal of a greater, grander future for all of humanity.
“There is no shortage of issues tearing us apart,” McWilliams said. “Rather than be paralyzed by fear, graduates, I will choose to place my faith in you. The world is changing so rapidly, and there is no question that you will face challenges unlike any that have come before, but you have the tools to face them. It will be up to you to choose to forge ahead with a common purpose.”
The message “I believe there is good in the world,” was displayed on one graduate’s mortar board, showing that many are optimistic about the future despite the challenges they may face.
Mary Weidner, the first Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, knows something about facing challenges and overcoming fear. She channeled her own inner superhero to create the InterACT program. The children who participate create their own puppets that are “different” in some way, and learn the things that are special about them and the people around them.
Provost Joyce McConnell said Braden, Weidner and their fellow graduates should continue to use their special abilities, to be the changes they wish to see in the world.
“You take with you the skills you’ve learned and the knowledge you’ve gained,” McConnell said. “You will take with you the passion you’ve discovered for your academic discipline, for your chosen career path, for service to our world. You will take with you our pride, our faith, and your new identity as Mountaineer alumni.”
That’s an identity that embodies the ideals of the superheroes that shaped us as children and, as McWilliams believes, can inspire us as adults if we are brave enough to embrace the challenge. “If you do, then the future will be bright for you and for my children, and we can hardly imagine today all of the wonders that you will make possible.”
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