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Gee urges WVU Class of 2018 to make choices that serve their purpose in life

Aziz Aldasem reads his diploma after walking during the College of Business and Economics Commencement in the Coliseum.

(Editor’s note: Media may download a 350 MB mp4 video file.)

The West Virginia University Class of 2018 isn’t the first to leave college life for a turbulent world. President Gordon Gee earned his first degree 50 years ago amid Viet Nam War protests, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and soon afterward, presidential candidate Robert Kennedy. 

Gee offered without comparison to present-day issues a look back at that tumultuous year during commencement ceremonies that culminated Sunday with the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences awarding undergraduate degrees. He did provide the graduates some inspiration from his generation, one that changed America.

“In truth, the charged atmosphere around us inspired in many young people an especially acute sense of purpose,” Gee said. “And, in the half-century since then, I have learned that life is really all about finding your purpose and making sure your choices serve that purpose.”

West Virginia author Ann Pancake, who was awarded an honorary doctorate at Eberly’s graduate degree ceremonies, spoke more directly to current affairs, noting that Mountain State residents had “lived with the problems up close.”

“Regardless of political identification, most Americans now feel our country is in need of vital change,” Pancake said. “Many believe we are at a tipping point in a variety of arenas, including human rights, the natural world and even democracy itself. (A)ny period of things falling apart is at one and the same time a period of tremendous opportunity.”

This class of more than 4,450 is likely a generation prepared for enacting “vital change,” having earned a University record 10 Fulbright Scholarships, two Boren Scholarships, an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and a Truman Scholarship. Eight students were named to the Order of Augusta, WVU’s most prestigious student honor.

Among these acclaimed seniors are graduates from a variety of disciplines, volunteers who have scraped mud from flood-damaged homes and businesses and researchers who advocate for elevating minority student voices.

Among them is also Savannah Lusk, an exercise physiology major from Covel who is both Order of Augusta and a Fulbright Scholar. Lusk taught biology to students at Bujuuko High School in Uganda and hopes to bridge the gap between science and policy to bring about positive changes in West Virginia. 

And Daniel Berrebi from Morgantown will graduate with degrees in biology and Spanish with a minor in business administration. Berrebi raises money for WVU’s Public Health Brigades and volunteered to help with a sustainable farming project in McDowell County and with environmental protection work at the WVU Core Arboretum.

Not only academically, but athletically, this class leaves its mark on WVU. 

Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles, Jr., two of the University’s top basketball players, graduated from the College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences Friday. 

Carter and Miles wrapped arms with other new CPASS graduates to sing the John Denver classic “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” on the very floor where they performed as student-athletes, 

Six years after leaving Morgantown, Bruce Irvin earned his Regents Bachelor of Arts degree from the College of Education and Human Services. He participated in its Saturday commencement ceremony at the Coliseum. The 30-year-old defensive lineman left WVU in 2012 to pursue every little boy's dream of making it to the NFL. The Seattle Seahawks drafted him as that year's 15th overall pick. 

"People can go up to my son and say, 'Your father's an NFL player,'” Irvin said. “And he can say, 'Yeah, he's an NFL player and he also graduated from college. He graduated from West Virginia University. That's stuff money can't buy."

And as the throngs at Mountaineer Field did when he entered, the commencement crowd greeted him with, “Bruuuuce!”

Purpose, wellness and balance were themes woven throughout speeches across campus at 17 ceremonies for WVU’s 13 colleges and schools over three days. 

Provost Joyce McConnell, who spoke at the College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences, told graduates that Japanese has no word for retirement. Instead, she said, the Japanese people “strive for this wonderful idea called “Ikigai,” essentially a reason to get out of bed in the morning. 

“Finding what you’re good at and can get paid for leads to a profession, while pursuing what you love that the world needs becomes a mission,” McConnell continued. “But only when you pursue work that encompasses all four things—work that you love, that you are good at, that you can be paid for and that the world needs will you achieve Ikigai.”

Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president and executive dean for health sciences, gave graduates of the School of Medicine, the School of Pharmacy, the School of Public Health, the School of Dentistry and the School of Nursing a similar four-point prescription encompassing wholeness, resilience, community and health. 

“It is not merely the absence of disease,” Marsh said of health, “it is how we lead our lives, and connection to a deeper purpose. Pay attention to every part of your life and each part will reward you.”

Notable moments

• Jordin Wilcher and her mother, Susan Miley, both graduated this weekend. Wilcher earned her degree from the Davis College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Miley earned her Board of Regents degree from the College of Education and Human Services.

• Calvin Dworshak was awarded a posthumous degree from the Davis College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. His mother, Carrie, and sister, Avery, accepted his degree.

• The School of Pharmacy awarded a posthumous degree to Andy Coles His wife, Kierra, daughter, Alaina, and mother, Debbie, accepted his degree.

• Blake Leeper, who was born without legs below his knees, still spent most of his young life succeeding in sports. He is a United States Paralympic athlete, eight-time Paralympic Track and Field international medalist, world record holder and three-time American record holder. Leeper was the speaker at the School of Medicine’s (professionals) commencement exercises. 

WVU also awarded honorary doctorates to:

• Greg Burton, College of Business and Economics

• Dan McCarthy, College of Business and Economics

• Jennifer Sirangelo, College of Business and Economics

• Maestro Everett Lee, College of Creative Arts

• John W. Crites, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design 

• Wayne Richards, Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources

• George Schuller, Jr., Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources

• Peter Kails, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



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