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A new WVU graduate celebrates during a Commencement ceremony at the Coliseum, Dec. 16, 2023. (WVU Photo/Brian Persinger)

WVU Commencement celebrates student successes, new beginnings

MORGANTOWN — Resilient and fueled by passion and purpose, nearly 2,700 West Virginia University graduates are ready for the next chapters in their lives following two Commencement ceremonies Saturday (Dec. 16) at the Coliseum.

“Commencement means beginning, but a current box office success suggested another word fitting for this occasion — ‘renaissance,’” WVU President Gordon Gee told the graduates. “French for ‘rebirth,’ this word evokes the challenges you have overcome while pursuing your education, as well as the excitement in moving past them into a new phase.

“Your resilience in reaching graduation while dealing with a pandemic and other pressures is awe-inspiring. In some ways, obstacles are our greatest teachers and the persistence and problem-solving skills you have developed as a student will serve you well throughout your life,” Gee added.

Among the graduates donning gold and blue regalia were West Virginia natives Abby Warnick from the WVU School of Nursing, and Katie Merrill, one of the first graduates in the Mental Health and Addiction Studies program in the WVU College of Applied Human Sciences, who overcame personal challenges to cross the graduation stage.

Warnick, diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma last semester, attributes her success to resilience, and the faculty who visited her in the hospital and encouraged her to finish her final semester so she could begin her career in oncology.

A mother and person in long-term recovery, Merrill completed class assignments in the hospital waiting room and attended online advising meetings in the parking lot while her partner underwent several back surgeries. Driven by her passion to help others, she credits her success to supportive instructors and the Collegiate Recovery Program.

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Maryanne Reed stressed the value of such persistence and purpose in her address to graduates.

“Some of you may have been just freshman when we closed campus down and switched to remote studies,” Reed said. “That was a tough time and no doubt you have faced many other difficulties since then. But through it all, you persevered, kept your eye on the prize and here you are today.”

That resonated with Joshua Matheny, a non-traditional student from the WVU School of Public Health whose interest in health care management began while serving as a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy. His passion led him back to Morgantown where he attended classes while working at J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital. Matheny plans to pursue a master’s degree online in health administration at WVU.

Jessica Weaver, a math teacher at South Middle School for more than a decade passionate about establishing a fun and captivating classroom, was awarded a Presidential Honorary Degree during the afternoon ceremony. An honorary degree is presented each December to celebrate the work of public school personnel in West Virginia.

“As the word ‘renaissance’ implies, your new life is now beginning, whether the next step is continuing your education or launching a career,” Gee said. “Your journey will lead to success if you commit to your unique purpose and make choices that serve that purpose.”

Other honorable mentions included:

  • Two graduates from the WVU John Chambers College of Business and Economics landed full-time jobs through internships. Brian Kotson of Glen Dale will work in hospitality at Nemacolin resort and Ian Thayer of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, will work in human resources at WVU Medicine.
  • Two graduates from the WVU Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources are distinguishing themselves. Moriah Frazier, of Clarksburg, Maryland, created a new cybersecurity capstone concept and Mohammed Tamim Zaki, of Bangladesh, has been selected as a West Virginia Science and Technology Graduate Student Policy Fellow.
  • Marisa Organiscak of Chardon, Ohio, is graduating summa cum laude in less than four years with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.

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