Acclaimed for their perseverance and encouraged to live a life filled with purpose, nearly 4,500 West Virginia University graduates walked across the stage during 14 commencement ceremonies this weekend (May 12-14) to receive their diplomas as family and friends cheered.
“Many of you have endured the unique challenges of a pandemic on your journey to graduation, and though life has mostly returned to normal, these challenges took a lasting toll on many students,” WVU President Gordon Gee said. “However, you persevered, and I congratulate you for the tremendous resolve you have shown in achieving this milestone.
“Having an overarching sense of purpose for your life beyond graduation may have strengthened your resilience even further,” Gee added. “And your sense of purpose will accompany you wherever you go and inspire you past every obstacle.”
Living a life of purpose aptly describes Joel Newman, an alumnus and former CEO of the American Feed Industry Association. Newman devoted more than four decades to providing a safe and sustainable food supply through advanced animal nutrition and was among seven commencement speakers to be awarded honorary doctoral degrees.
Newman told Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design graduates to follow their passions as they set out on their next journey “by finding what gets them going each morning and gives them meaning every day.”
Turning their passions and degrees into purpose-driven careers, Mathias Solliday from Green Bank and Regan Swan from Scott Depot were among the Davis College graduates.
Shortly after the pandemic lockdown, Solliday’s fascination with propagated plants evolved into Mackey’s Tree House, a small business he co-owns with his wife offering their unique plants and handmade wood crafts. His degree in horticulture also helped him land a job at Snowshoe Mountain Resort where he will design and construct landscapes and a production greenhouse.
Swan, who “fell in love with environmental and law use law” earned her degree in agribusiness management and will attend the College of Law in the fall as she continues her journey to becoming an advocate for natural resource protection and sustainable development practices.
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Maryanne Reed reminded graduates of their resilience and grit, and encouraged the sea of students in gold and blue regalia to “open their heart to others and find purpose and meaning in their work.”
An opportunity to serve as an intern with Girls on the Run, as part of her School of Public Health senior capstone project, inspired Kaleigh Moss to lead others with an open heart and make a difference in her communities. The Winchester, Virginia, native was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force this week.
Honorary degree recipient Diana Lewis Jackson, a Clarksburg native who launched Action Facilities Management out of her basement at the age of 37, encouraged graduates from the John Chambers College of Business and Economics to follow their passions regardless of age.
That resonated with graduate Nathan Baker of Fairmont who believes “anything is possible if you chase it long enough, even for a small-town kid from West Virginia.” Baker, 30, will begin his career as a derivatives analyst for the Bank of New York Mellon in Pittsburgh.
Richard Adams, a University alumnus and executive chairman of the board of United Bankshares, Inc. from Parkersburg, was also awarded an honorary degree during the Chambers College ceremony.
Echoing the sentiments of President Gee and others, Scott Widmeyer, the founder of one of the largest public relations firms in the country and recipient of an honorary degree, noted the “pervasive problems” of the past and present and called the Reed College of Media Class of 2023 “a symbol of hope representing aspiration and perseverance.”
Other notable moments:
- The remaining speakers to receive an honorary degree include: Dr. Michael Apuzzo, a world-renowned neurosurgeon awarded during the School of Medicine ceremony; Carolyn Long, the immediate past president of WVU Institute of Technology awarded during the College of Applied Human Sciences ceremony; and Noel Doheny, an alumnus and a longtime medical diagnostics executive awarded during the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences ceremony. Read more about the honorary degree recipients.
- Chancellor and Executive Dean for Health Sciences Dr. Clay Marsh addressed students from the School of Medicine, School of Public Health, School of Dentistry, School of Pharmacy and School of Nursing.
- Riley Cullen from Manchester, New Hampshire, is the first graduate of the Art Therapy Program.
- Ashley Faddis, of Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, was hooded by her grandfather, Dr. Billy Schamp, one of the first students to graduate from the School of Dentistry.
- Twins from Preston County received degrees from the Master of Science in Nursing program.
- Earning their Regents Bachelor of Arts degrees, Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources full-time employees LaDawn Weaver and Dianne Stewart, were granted permission to walk with the Statler College.