(Editor’s note: A comprehensive photo gallery is available and will be updated with additional images.)
Following a year of missed milestones, celebrations and traditions, West Virginia University’s first in-person commencement ceremony since December 2019 ushered in a renewed sense of optimism for the nearly 4,500 graduates who walked across the stage to receive their diplomas in four ceremonies this weekend (May 15-16).
Because of health and safety guidelines associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, graduates gathered with family and friends at Milan Puskar Stadium instead of the WVU Coliseum for the first time since 2000.
Reaching this important milestone during a global pandemic may have been challenging for the 2020 and 2021 graduates, but this weekend marked a celebration of overcoming adversity through courage, perseverance and compassion and the beginning of a new chapter.
“This has been a year of disruption. Certainly, a year of losses —but not a lost year. Through all of these moments of challenge you persisted,” Dr. Patrice Harris, a three-time WVU alumna and first African American woman to serve as the president of the American Medical Association, told the graduates.
“Appreciate the whole journey and that includes embracing the yuck. If ever there was a yuck time in history - this is it,” Harris said. “In a crisis - the yuck - we learn what is most important in life: our families, our friends, the ways we choose to respond to adversity. We also learn about ourselves and we test the limits of what we thought possible.”
1st Lt. Jaylan Mobley, who earned his master's degree in business cybersecurity management in 2020, remained persistent in pursuit of his goals, graduated with a cumulative grade point average of 4.0 and was recently selected as the first cyber army officer in the history of the West Virginia Army National Guard.
“My time at WVU has been one of the greatest experiences in my early career. As I approach graduation, I can only think about the people I have met along the way. My training, validation and verification that I have received at WVU has more than prepared me for what’s ahead,” Mobley said.
WVU President Gordon Gee’s message embraced “togetherness” as the key to navigating disruption.
“My hope is that this crisis leaves us with a profound understanding of the interconnectedness that bridges each life with every other,” Gee told them. “And my hope for today’s graduates is that there is an awareness that, even in times of crises and isolation, we are all in this together.”
This message resonated with marketing major and Mountaineer quarterback Jarret Doege from Lubbock, Texas, who made his mark on and off the field during the pandemic. He pivoted to fostered community virtually among his teammates, inspiring them to stay on track academically, perform service in their communities and to stay in good physical shape by posting workout routines and drills that featured his parents.
And the Academic All-Big 12 First Team honoree helped lead the Mountaineers to a 6-4 overall record and a win the 2020 AutoZone Liberty Bowl.
Julianna Everly, an elementary education major from Morgantown also inspired the members of Kappa Delta Pi to continue their professional development virtually and perform service to others throughout the pandemic to include virtual trainings and supply drives to provide local teachers and students with cleaning supplies, disposable masks and other PPE.
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Maryanne Reed reassured graduates that they possess the skills needed to succeed.
“Working toward your goals under the shadow of a global pandemic has been daunting at times. But here’s the good news. You handled it. And this says a lot about you, your resiliency and your ability to face the future, whatever comes your way,” Reed said.
Vice President and Executive Dean of Health Sciences Clay Marsh thanked students for the compromises made to help keep their communities and beyond safe during the pandemic.
“You collaborated on research with our experts. Volunteered at testing sites and vaccination clinics. And met our most vulnerable populations, like nursing home residents, where they were,” Marsh said. “I know it hasn’t been easy, but your willingness to push forward shows compassion, resolve and selflessness.”
Four students inspired by compassion in the School of Public Health, Dakota McCollian from Willow Grove, Pennsylvania; Adrian Thomas from Greensboro, Pennsylvania; and Jeevan Murthy and Lilith McGhee from Charleston concur this has not been a year lost but a “once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity” as they joined forces with the Monongalia County Health Department to support its pandemic relief efforts to include community relation efforts at COVID-19 testing sites and vaccination clinics.
The University also presented four West Virginians with honorary doctorates: Mike John and Robert “Bob” Orders, Jr. received honorary doctorates from Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources; Ann Magnuson from the College of Creative Arts and Ken Sullivan from the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.
Gov. Jim Justice shared an encouraging video message commending the graduates on their ability to adapt and face the challenges of a new journey.
And Gee urged them to embrace the journey, exploring the world as it reopens and using this period of social distancing as a reminder of how precious human connections are.
“Instead of returning to normal life when this pandemic is over, build a richer one with less TikTok and more togetherness,” Gee said.
The ceremonies, live-streamed for those unable to attend in person, closed as the graduates joined their classmates attending ceremonies virtually from around the world for the traditional turning of the tassel.
WVU Institute of Technology celebrated more than 180 graduates during an in-person ceremony on May 8, a date that also marked a historic moment for WVU Potomac State College as the first cohort of students graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
Recordings of the Morgantown ceremonies will be available in the commencement webcast archive.
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