Four years seems like such a long time. And then it’s over.
On Sunday, more than 1,500 West Virginia University students completed their degree requirements – and approximately 750 participated in convocation ceremonies – after spending the last four years with us. Those graduates will now move on – once students, now professionals.
They’ll always be Mountaineers in their hearts, though.
“You’ve started something here at West Virginia University, and now you’re ready to launch your plans and your dreams,” said University President Jim Clements. “Today marks the end of an important chapter in your life and the beginning of a new adventure.”
Graduation is the end of the best four years of your life – and the start of the rest of it. That’s what everyone says anyway.
Graduation day is truly the first point where many can – for the first time – reflect back on the last four years. That’s when students really understand what they’ve accomplished.
“WVU definitely molded me into who I am today and what I want to do with my career,” said Sydnie Whitacre, a graduate in multidisciplinary studies from Waynesburg, Pa. “Living 20 minutes from Morgantown, it was always my dream to come to WVU and graduate – a goal I reached today.”
These students will leave WVU older and brighter. They’ve lived and become a part of the Mountaineer family.
“I have spent the last four-and-a-half years at WVU understanding and learning who I am and who I want to be as an individual. My perception of the world is larger,” said Michael Farrell, a graduate in design studies from Huntingtown, Md.
On Sunday, more than 700 students graduated at convocation in the WVU Coliseum. The keynote speaker was Dr. Alison Wilson, director of the Jon Michael Moore Trauma Center at Ruby Memorial Hospital, associate professor in the WVU School of Medicine, Department of Surgery and director of the Division of Trauma, Acute Care Surgery and Critical Care.
“Each of you will have your own stories and lessons,” Wilson said. “Tremendous opportunity awaits each and every one of you. How you approach opportunity and how you learn from challenges will determine your life and success.”
Justin Smith, a graduate in criminology from Columbus, Ohio, said WVU changed his life.
“I grew tremendously here. I learned what it meant to be a better person, to care for others and to embrace challenges, no matter how hard they may seem,” he said. “I have a better outlook on the world and the people in it. Life isn’t just all about me anymore.
“I love being a Mountaineer, because of all it entails. There is a great pride for the state of West Virginia and our University, and no matter where you see another student, alumni or fan, you can bond over that.”
Many of those students reached goals or met dreams on Sunday by walking across the stage. Because of that, a part of their hearts will always be in the hills of West Virginia.
“I’m a different person now – and that’s because of WVU,” said Justin Pentz, a graduate in civil engineering from DuBois, Pa. “College just matures you as a person. It has opened me up to different ways of life and to a more holistic look at things.”
Pentz was a four-year member of the 12-time national championship rifle team at WVU. He chose to become a Mountaineer over other state schools because it had the small-town feel he was used to where he could experience college both academically and athletically.
“I put in so much hard work and dedication since I’ve been at WVU,” he said. “Before, at times, I may have thought I couldn’t do something. But, I’ve really learned that if you put your mind to something, you can. I found that out by working so hard at WVU.”
Pentz will stay at WVU to pursue a master’s degree in civil engineering. He will also be a graduate assistant with the rifle program.
“I’d tell anyone that is thinking of coming to WVU that there is a lot to be learned here – whether it’s life lessons or academics. Take in the whole thing, all the culture of the area, and really appreciate what this University stands for,” Pentz said. “Everyone is here to help. There will always be someone to go see. The helpfulness our community at WVU provides is something special.”
Remember this day through the eyes of our newest graduates
When Whitacre walked across the stage, she kept the memory of her father, who died earlier this year, in her mind. He had always wanted her to graduate, and she accomplished that on Sunday.
“It’s definitely his day,” Whitacre said.
Whitacre grew up just 20 minutes from Morgantown and was born into a Mountaineer family. She met her husband, David, who graduated on Sunday with a multidisciplinary studies degree as well, at the University while participating in community service projects as part of Alpha Phi Omega.
“The biggest thing I’ll take away from my time at WVU is definitely my attitude toward community service and being service oriented,” she said. “Before I went to school here, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Through my experiences at WVU, I found a passion from community service and non-profit organizations. It molded me into who I am today, and what I want to do with my career.”
Farrell, maybe more than others, needed a tough freshman year to get his career path set in front of him. After failing to embrace his academics in his first year he gave himself a reality check that changed his life.
“The biggest lesson I learned was that school must be your top priority if you want to do well. As I matured, I focused more on my studies and am a straight-A student,” he said. “Over the years, I have had drastic changes in accordance to my faith and now I try my best to live a God-centered life, which was not the case my freshmen year. I am a lot more loving and accepting of everyone and try to add value to other’s lives.”
Farrell will move back to Maryland to begin his new job as media producer for the Children’s and Youth ministries.
“Although I will be leaving Morgantown and moving on, I’ll always be a Mountaineer,” he said. “When I first came to college, I never thought that I would end up in ministry. Now I am doing it full-time and have a desire to do missions all around the world to help those in need. I could be making six figures somewhere, but helping those in need in third-world countries gives me more joy than any amount of money could.”
Stephanie Murphy, a public relations graduate from Hambleton, had another special reason to celebrate on Sunday, as her freshman year was 24 years ago. She started her college degree back in 1989 and had to stop due to the birth of her three children.
She found time to come to WVU to finish her degree, however.
“I learned that I could accomplish more than I ever knew I was capable of doing. I reached small goals that I set for myself and by doing so I found that the great big ones were also reachable,” she said. “I learned my own family was stronger and more important than ever.”
While these students will move on from their years at WVU, they will forever remember their times fondly. It’s the reason we all call it the best four years of our lives – and they will, too.
“There is no more enthusiastic, privileged, respected, and honored a group to belong than becoming a Mountaineer. I get just as excited to hear ‘Country Roads’ as a kid waiting for the Old Gold and Blue to take the field,” Murphy said. “I know an entire state is now my brothers and sisters, because of our love and loyalty for West Virginia University.”
Diplomas will be mailed to December graduates in January after grades are confirmed with the Office of the University Registrar.
To view the archived webcast of the convocation, go to http://webcast.wvu.edu/.
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