The weather outside wasn’t quite frightful, and it was delightful inside the West Virginia University Coliseum Friday (Dec. 15) as the largest December graduating class in the University’s 150 years received diplomas amid cheers, shrill whistles and honking horns from their friends and families.
For the first time, WVU held two ceremonies, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, to accommodate more than 2,800 graduates.
WVU President Gordon Gee welcomed the graduates at both ceremonies, advising them to keep their eyes open to new vistas and their ears open to new voices, as well as to keep their hearts “open to all life’s wondrous and strange possibilities.” All the while, Gee said, the graduates should “let their gold-and-blue spirit shine.”
“The Flying WV is not just a logo but a friend magnet,” Gee said. “As soon as you display it, even in the most unlikely and out-of-the-way places, you will hear voices calling, ‘Let’s go, Mountaineers.’”
Among other firsts, the School of Public Health graduated its inaugural undergraduate cohort. Lauren Dirkman, from Harrisburg, Pa., said the new major finally made her feel at home after none of her other majors “clicked.”
“My Public Health classes were interesting, and the faculty and staff really seemed to care about the success of the students,” Dirkman said. “I had professors personally encouraging me, and it helped me really connect with the major.”
The School of Public Health was among the colleges and schools that graduated students in the afternoon exercises, where Wes Bush, chairman, chief executive officer and president of Northrop Grumman Corp., received an honorary doctorate in engineering.
Bush also gave the afternoon keynote address, noting that as the graduates were facing transformation into the next phase of their lives, being able to adapt to change would always stand them in good stead.
“(T)he engine of innovation is change — change in the needs of people; change in new understanding that affords and directs new innovations; change in the tools that are available to create those needed innovations,” Bush, a Morgantown native, said.
Also, Nancy Gonzalez and Kathryn Jones were the first graduates of the Reed College of Media’s Data Marketing Communications program, the nation’s pioneer graduate degree focused on the effect of data on marketing communications.
WVU Provost Joyce McConnell addressed College of Business and Economics and Eberly College of Arts and Sciences students who were graduated at the morning ceremony. McConnell’s Star Wars-themed speech encouraged students to be “adventurers, whether that means literally traveling to new places and meeting new people, or that means that you dive deep into the secrets of a particular gene or chemical or literary text.”
On the day the latest film in the Star War series debuted, McConnell likened a university degree to a light saber.
“Your degree will open doors. To spaceships or job opportunities—that’s up to you. Your degree will help you rescue people, whether as medical professionals, lawyers, teachers, social workers. No matter what your chosen field, you’ll change lives for the better.”
When College of Business and Economics graduate Kashish Tandon, already a world traveler, opened the door at WVU, he found a place where he could “become.”
“I was born in India, raised in Nigeria, and right now, I’m being manufactured in America,” Tandon, a management information systems major, said. As a student, he was involved as a B&E Student Ambassador, interned at PepsiCo in Baltimore, and served in several student organizations, including the International Student Organization, the African Student Organization and the Supply Chain Management Association. At WVU, he said he was more than a number. “I was asked about who I was—my dreams and ambitions.”
Will Grier is a student known for being number 7. As WVU’s quarterback, Grier passed for 3,490 yards in his first starting season before being injured in the final home game against Texas Nov. 18. Grier has committed to his 2018 senior season with the Mountaineers Thursday.
“Earning my degree from West Virginia University and playing for this University means a lot to me and is something that I take a lot of pride in,” said Grier, a multi-disciplinary studies major from Davidson, N.C. “This is my family and this place is my home. I love the West Virginia fan base and always will respect and represent the flying WV.”
As Gee bid farewell to the Class of 2017, he reminded them to always talk to people about WVU.
“Along the way, hold your Mountaineer flag high,” he said. “Tell people about our University. We are growing and advancing, so keep in touch with us online and visit campus often. Your time at West Virginia University has changed you. Now it is time for you to start changing our world.”
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