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WVU President Gordon Gee greets a graduate at commencement exercises held at the WVU Coliseum Dec. 18, 2021. (WVU Photo/Jennifer Shephard)
WVU President Gordon Gee greets a graduate at commencement exercises held at the WVU Coliseum Dec. 18, 2021. (WVU Photo/Jennifer Shephard)

Gee praises WVU graduates for overcoming challenges of the last two years

A laudable spirit of perseverance that has sustained Mountaineers for generations was underscored in West Virginia University President Gordon Gee’s address to the August and December 2021 graduates during two commencement ceremonies today (Dec. 18) at the WVU Coliseum.

“Grit and determination have always fueled Mountaineers,” Gee told graduates. “And I have seen those qualities emerge even more strongly over the past several years, a disruptive and sometimes disheartening time for us all. But the skills and strengths you honed here will drive you onward.”

Gee also urged the graduates to “fight above your weight class.”

“Never let people with lengthier resumes or more “prestigious” pedigrees intimidate you; others may be arrogant, but Mountaineers are confident,” Gee said.

Nearly 1,100 of the estimated 2,700 graduates, who surmounted the challenges of a global pandemic, racial tensions and political division to reach this important milestone, walked across the stage to receive their diplomas, marking the beginning of a new chapter in their lives.

Among the sea of decorated mortarboards was one of the first students to graduate from the Reed College of Media’s M.S. in Media Solutions and Innovation program and member of the inaugural cohort of NewStart Fellows, Crystal Good, a native of St. Albans who decided to take the bull by the horns in 2020 and launch “Black by God, the West Virginian,” a website that aims to share the voices and opinions of Black West Virginians. Her work has been shared on “Parts Unknown” with Anthony Bourdain and the award-winning “Hillbilly: The Documentary.”

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Maryanne Reed reassured graduates like Good that WVU has equipped them with the skills needed to succeed.

“You have adapted and kept alive your ambitions, hopes and dreams. In short, you have pivoted and adapted, and this says a lot about you and your ability to face the future,” Reed said. “You have earned your success — through your hard work and your Mountaineer resiliency.

That resonated with two student-athletes from the College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences.

Bryce Ford-Wheaton, a native of Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, who was recently dubbed an “elite” football receiver, continues a family legacy of resilience. He is the grandson of Garrett Ford, Sr., one of West Virginia’s pioneering athletes in the mid-1960’s who broke barriers to become the first Black assistant football coach at WVU.

And two-year soccer captain Pau Jimenez Albelda, from Barcelona, Spain, who kicked around rolls of toilet paper and took exams in the middle of the night during last year’s stay-at-home lockdown in Spain, returned to Morgantown to help the Mountaineers reach the Elite 8 for the first time since 1981.

Saturday’s ceremonies, the first held inside the Coliseum in two years due to the pandemic, also honored Hershel “Woody” Williams, a native of Quiet Dell, who was awarded virtually a Presidential honorary degree. Williams, who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima with the 21st Marines, 3d Marine Division, is the sole surviving Marine from World War II to wear the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Other notable moments:

  • The College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences honored its first cohort of Health and Well-being students.
  • The School of Medicine saw its first MATTER track graduates.
  • Students in the School of Public Health’s B.S. in Public Health program highlighted their support efforts across the state during the Undergraduate Senior Showcase.

Recordings of the Morgantown ceremonies will be available in the commencement webcast archive.

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