For some 2,700 West Virginia University students, pre-test jitters and caffeine-fueled all-nighters are now memories of the past.
Many of those students, beaming and hugging in their caps and gowns – and a few getting presidential embraces and “selfies” – experienced the culmination of their college careers Friday (Dec. 19) at WVU’s 2014 December Commencement.
Their next step? Wherever their dreams lead them.
As the ceremony’s keynote speaker, Dr. Jennifer Knight, a self-described West Virginia “lifer,” told August and December graduates in attendance at the Coliseum that her dreams led her from West Virginia to….. West Virginia.
“After four years of medical school, being a surgeon was my calling,” Knight said. “That meant a five-year general surgical residency and for this, I was going to leave West Virginia.
“I decided to stay. A decision I have never regretted.”
Knight, associate professor of surgery and associate trauma director for the Jon Michael Moore Trauma Center, charged WVU’s newest graduates with a call for making a difference in their post-college lives.
She first asked graduates to take selfies with their phones before her remarks. That request served an ulterior purpose at the end.
“Pictures help me remember, which is why I wanted you to take a selfie. I don’t care if you remember me but I want you to remember today. Remember what you’ve accomplished. Remember who helped you get here. Remember to give back.”
Knight was a tad biased in where she thought they should play out their dreams. The Doddridge County native has spent 37 of her 38 years living in West Virginia. After finishing a fellowship in Maryland, she discussed her next steps with her mentor, who wanted her to take a position at a “large, well known place.” Her peers took jobs at Yale, Johns Hopkins and the University of Arizona. But Knight wanted to come back to West Virginia.
She ran into that mentor earlier this year, and he told her that she made the right decision by not listening to his advice.
“I promise you: In five or 10 years, I know where I’ll be. I hope you are all here with me.”
WVU President Gordon Gee kicked off the ceremony with welcoming remarks and congratulated the graduates and their families.
“Today, I will confer your degrees,” Gee said. “But you are taking away much more than a degree as you launch the next leg of your journey.
“As a West Virginia University graduate, you carry with you a global perspective, a passion for service, a pioneering spirit, an innovative drive to succeed, a tireless attitude and a grounded, yet caring, attitude.”
Like he did at the May Commencement, Gee offered new graduates advice for the future. A few nuggets of wisdom included “fortune favors the bold,” “dream big” and “leggings are not pants. You will particularly want to keep this in mind when going to a job interview.”
Gee also echoed what comedian/actress Amy Poehler told a group of Harvard graduates: “Try putting your iPhones down every once in a while and look at people’s faces.”
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