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Dr. Patrice Harris delivers the commencement address at West Virginia Wesleyan College Sunday. Harris was the first Black woman to serve as president of the American Medical Association and received a Doctor of Humane Letters as an honorary degree. Nearly 200 students received their diplomas during the ceremony held outside on Cebe Ross Field.
Dr. Patrice Harris delivers the commencement address at West Virginia Wesleyan College on Sunday. Harris was the first Black woman to serve as president of the American Medical Association and received a Doctor of Humane Letters as an honorary degree. Nearly 200 students received their diplomas during the ceremony held outside on Cebe Ross Field.

Nearly 200 students graduate from West Virginia Wesleyan College

BUCKHANNON – During the 130th Commencement at West Virginia Wesleyan College on Sunday, 191 graduates gathered outside on Cebe Ross Field to celebrate their academic accomplishments and say goodbye to their Home Among the Hills.

Although a few raindrops fell intermittently, the ceremony escaped any significant downpours as parents, relatives, members of the Board of Trustees and the faculty and staff celebrated with graduates who represented 17 states and eight countries.

Dr. Patrice Harris, the immediate past president of the American Medical Association and Chairwoman of the AMA Opioid Task Force, delivered the commencement address — ‘Stand in Your Authentic Voice.’

“We have to acknowledge we are in a hopeful time – we have vaccines now to combat the COVID-19 pandemic,” Harris said. “We are here today in person — socially distanced and following all of the good public guidelines – but we are here and so we are in a period of pragmatic hope. I hope you will all feel joy and a sense of accomplishment. Cherish and celebrate this day as a culmination of all of your hard work, dedication and commitment.”

Harris told those gathered to be curious, read more and be lifelong learners. She said to be a critical thinker – to ask questions about the world around them.

“Be open to intergenerational learning,” Harris said. “Be self-aware and willing to challenge your own assumptions and willing to self-correct when you discover something new. Be kind – think of others.

“Opportunities that come your way may take you out of your comfort zone. But note that you are prepared. Know that all you have learned along your journey prepares you to say, ‘yes.’ Sometimes you need to say, ‘no.’ You have to practice self-care and not overextend.”

Harris asked graduates to practice gratitude and be courageous.

“Courage means acting, even when you are afraid,” she said. “Understand that change is constant and every generation must face its own challenges. Your commitment, your compassion and your perseverance – the very qualities that led you to this moment — are the qualities you can trust to lead you through the rest of your lives. Be your best selves. Know that the skills, the values, the relationships and perspectives you learned here will be a part of your best selves going forward.”

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, Rev. Dr. Ellis Conley offered greetings to those gathered for the commencement.

“I welcome you as parents, family, faculty, staff, trustees, alumni and guests,” Conley said. “What an adventure you have been on to receive your degrees during a pandemic.”

Conley said each graduate should receive a sticker on their diploma for adaptability.

“This is not the first time a graduating class has experienced a pandemic,” Conley said. “During the 1918 pandemic, in the midst of World War I, the gymnasium – not the one that is here, but the one which preceded it – was turned into a barracks for 200 student Army training corps members and a makeshift dining hall. The annex was turned into a makeshift hospital. There was one student who died.”

“As you graduate, you will have great stories to tell your children and grandchildren. When they try to tell you how hard college is for them, you will be able to match any story that your grandparents or great grandparents told you about having to walk, knee deep in snow both ways to get to class,” Conley said. “This is not the first time in your lives you have had to be adaptable. That character strength you have developed as you have been students at WVWC over the past few years will be a great gift to you in this rapidly changing world and will serve you in ways you can never imagine.”

Those gathered were welcomed by Joel Thierstein, President of WVWC.

“I want to thank you for all you have done for Wesleyan while you were here and all that you will do for Wesleyan as you go out into the world,” Thierstein said. “This graduating class is impressive, and you are leaving us and going to some amazing places.

“Little did we know when we started our journey where it would go. In our wildest dreams, we could not have anticipated that three years in, we would be faced with a pandemic. But I want to tell you – I would not have wanted to go through this with any other students in the whole wide world than with this group here. You wore your masks, you maintained social distance and you brought us home, safe and sound.”

Honorary degrees were bestowed on Patrice A. Harris, MD, MA and Captain William S. ‘Bill’ Norman. Both received an Honorary Degree Doctor of Humane Letters. Norman was in the U.S. Navy and is the former president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. Harris was the 174th president of the American Medical Association.

Amanda Watson, president of the WVWC Class of 2021, offered a statement on behalf of the graduating class.

“I want to start by saying thank you,” Watson said. “Every person sitting on this field right now, along with all of the other faculty and staff that have come and gone during our years here, has played a role in getting us here today. We have been challenged; we have been understood. We have learned and we have been pushed to what we thought were our limits. But most importantly we have grown.”

Watson said she and her fellow graduates had to work through one of the most trying times in history.

“We were sent home in March of last year and did not return for on-campus classes until January of this year,” Watson said. “It is easy to say that none of us signed up for this. Not only have we figured out how to somehow learn remotely from home, but we all were socially isolated from our classmates, roommates, Greek Life brothers and sisters, teammates and best friends.”

Watson said she and her fellow classmates wanted to do something positive for future Bobcats, so for the Class of 2021 senior gift, they decided to help complete some of the renovations to the Annie Merner Pfeiffer Library. Among the items on the list are a gallery hanging system to showcase student artwork, new blinds for the windows, photographs of each incoming class and nap pods.

“We have asked each senior to consider making a gift of $20.21 in honor of the Class of 2021,” Watson said. “From donations from the Office of Student Development, Emeritus Alumni and Student Senate, the Class of 2021 will give over $15,000 for this project.”

Talley Sergent, chief development and marketing officer at WVWC, told My Buckhannon that of the 191 students participating in graduation, 180 students were May 2021 graduates and the remainder were December 2020 graduates or those who completed their degrees in the Summer of 2020.

“Of those graduates, approximately 160 were undergraduates and 20 received graduate degrees,” Sergent said. “Roughly 23 percent of the graduates were first-generation college students, and roughly 51 percent were female and 49 percent male.”

Nearly 60 percent of the Class of 2021 were from the Mountain State and almost half of those students – 47 percent – received the West Virginia PROMISE Scholarship, a merit-based financial aid scholarship for state residents.

“The most popular academic programs for undergraduate degrees include nursing, criminal justice, biology, exercise science, business administration and chemistry,” Sergent reported.

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