Summer reflections: Commencement celebrates the transformative journey from Wesleyan student into lifelong leader

By Dr. James Moore
WVWC President

Greetings, My Buckhannon readers! It’s been an exciting few months here at the College as we have wrapped up our academic year. We graduated a class of wonderful undergraduate and graduate students, and we’ve been spending the summer months doing what all small colleges do during this time of year — working to get campus ready for students to return in just a few short weeks.

During my years as a music professor, summers were my favorite seasons. I missed my students and couldn’t wait to get back to teaching, but I used the time to rest, plan, practice my horn, and make as many gigs on the jazz scene in Pittsburgh as I could so I could keep my edge as a teacher and player. It was always a fun time and it flew by fast.

Now, as President, summers feel very different. Campus is quiet, and staff and administrators are very productive. And I have lots of space to reflect. What’s occupied my thoughts recently has been our most recent commencement and how meaningful that event always is. And in that reflective mode, I’ve been thinking a lot about how much hope these Wesleyan graduates have when they leave graduation, diploma in-hand, and embark on their next journey. I wish I could bottle that essence that these graduates exude that day. They, their families, and their friends, are euphoric–and for good reason. And even though I’ve been to more commencement ceremonies that I can count at this point, I still get emotional.

Caveat: it doesn’t take much to make me cry.

What does it mean to graduate from college? From high school? From a graduate or even a doctoral program? Is it the ending of something? Is it a culmination? Why do we even have these events?

A commencement for me signifies the start of what’s next, what’s possible, and what’s expected of a graduate. There are many roads a successful graduate can take, but if done right, all roads lead to lifelong learning. As our world continues to change at a rapid pace, colleges need to be ever mindful that our job should be to prime our students to learn for the entirety of their lives. Classes in the liberal arts and sciences aren’t just about enriching someone’s experience, it’s about preparing students to use a plethora of information to have their views changed so that they can be adaptable. We don’t know what the job market will look like in ten years, let alone fifty. So preparing students to be in control of the change in their lives that will be thrust upon them is critical. 

I know this all sounds lofty, and right now a lot of people are questioning the value of a college education. I get it, particularly in Appalachia. Surely, a college degree is expected to lead to a job, and maybe even a career (those things are often different). But what I think the world needs more than ever is leaders, and West Virginia Wesleyan College has a long history of graduating the leaders of tomorrow. 

The x-factor, so-to-speak, that our graduates have is that they spend their time here immersed in and surrounded by service. Our faculty and staff model servant leadership. Our Trustees value and encourage service in their work. It comes as second nature to us. 

So, as I watched graduates and their families celebrate at graduation, I wondered how many future leaders I was seeing. Then it dawned on me that, for many of these graduates, they’re already providing leadership. I was filled with hope for our world, and I was gratified that we get to work at a place where everyone’s job is to serve some of the brightest young people anywhere. 

Commencement is many things to many people, but I believe it encapsulates what a college education is meant to be in a single day. 

We’re honored to do this work at Wesleyan, and the Buckhannon community is every bit as important to these students as anything else. Thanks for being a part of these efforts. Our graduates are your graduates, too.

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