More than 2,600 West Virginia University graduates participating in two Commencement ceremonies today (Dec. 17) were encouraged to hold fast to values forged as Mountaineers and tap into their unique strengths to live successful lives fueled by purpose.
“Knowing who you are will give you the strength to fight for your principles and it will give you the boldness to generate big ideas as well as the patience to turn them into practical solutions,” WVU President Gordon Gee said at the WVU Coliseum.
“Two-thirds of employees in a recent survey felt the pandemic caused them to reflect on their purpose in life. Your journey will lead to success if you commit to your unique purpose and make choices that serve you best.”
Among those in gold and blue regalia were Nicholas Ohi of Morgantown, and Kimberly Morris of Bridgeport, with the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, whose success was fueled by purpose.
Under Ohi’s leadership, WVU Robotics became the first school to win the NASA Sample Return Robot Centennial Challenge. Propelled by his passion for autonomous robot design, he seeks a career focused on better understanding the universe and improving lives of others through robot autonomy.
A blend of Morris’ industrial engineering skills and passion for refurbishing furniture evolved into a small business, Invidia Vintage, during the pandemic lockdown. Morris will continue to manage her online refurbished goods market while working as a processing engineer with CarMax in Richmond, Virginia.
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Maryanne Reed assured graduates WVU has equipped them with the skills needed to succeed.
“Thankfully, your last year of school was a little less tumultuous and a little more typical of the full on-campus WVU experience,” Reed said. “You have earned your success — through your hard work, dedication to your studies and your Mountaineer resiliency.”
That resonated with Coco Alvarez-Mena, of Miami, Florida, who earned her master’s degree while balancing a professional ballet career and coaching young dancers. One of the last graduates from the College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences, she attributes her success to faculty support, time management skills and resilience.
Doug Nester, a native of Kenova, from the John Chambers College of Business and Economics, has shown resilience as a student-athlete. Soon after transferring to WVU in 2021, he suffered a hand injury. Inspired to hone other skills during his recovery, Nester was able to play multiple positions, dubbing him a “Swiss Army knife of football.”
Larry Groce, a singer-songwriter and longtime artistic director of West Virginia Public Radio’s Mountain Stage, and Carrie Lee Gillette, a WVU alumna and special education teacher at Weir High School in Weirton, were awarded Presidential Honorary Degrees during the morning ceremony.
Recognized for his contributions to the arts, Groce showcased more than 3,000 artists from 1983-2021 while hosting the two-hour live music radio program distributed by National Public Radio. He is a member of the West Virginia Hall of Fame and has produced 24 albums, including gold and platinum children’s recordings for Walt Disney Records.
Gillette, who holds teaching certifications in autism and trauma in the classroom, has been teaching special education math and science and workplace readiness at Weir High School for 14 years. She is the inaugural recipient of the honorary degree that will celebrate the work of public school personnel throughout West Virginia each December.
Other notable moments:
- This was the first Commencement ceremony for the College of Applied Human Sciences and the final ceremonies for the former College of Education and Human Services and College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences, now part of CAHS.
- The DNP Nurse Anesthetist program saw its first graduates.
- Chloe Simpson donned the academic regalia of late alumnus John Gay.
- Prior to Saturday’s ceremonies, Chloe Sidick and Erica Gironda from the School of Public Health presented their hands-on capstone experiences.