An ageless occasion: WVU's newest graduates celebrate triumphs, dreams at commencement
A 94-year-old Army veteran. A rabbi-in-training. An aspiring brain surgeon.
No. This isn't the beginning of a bad joke.
those three individuals represent a sliver of West Virginia
batch of graduates, a star-studded assemblage from 45 states and 43 countries
who'll take that next leap into the unknown.
Just as diverse as their backgrounds and aspirations
were the range of emotions on display all weekend as WVU christened its Class
of 2015, sending 4,410 new graduates into the real world.
WVU hosted 17 ceremonies, including the inaugural
Mountaineer Send-off, which saw people from all over the globe unite to sing,
smile and shed tears.
It was a time to reflect – on the good, the bad and
everything in between.
While many reflected on their fun times as Mountaineers,
for some, like Ritu Dhungana, the road to academic enlightenment was littered
with loss and despair.
The run-up to graduation has been bittersweet for Dhungana.
While she was making final revisions to her
dissertation, a devastating earthquake shook her hometown of Kathmandu, Nepal,
killing more than 8,000 people.
Dhungana followed the disaster through cousins' Facebook posts and tried
reaching out to her parents. After 12 hours, she finally found out they were
safe, although the quake had destroyed their home.
Previously, Dhungana's parents had planned to attend her graduation. But after rising from the ruins, her parents could have stayed in Nepal to focus on rebuilding their lives piece by piece.
But they made a promise. And kept it.
to Morgantown to witness their daughter receive her doctorate in political
President Gordon Gee told their story Sunday
morning at the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences master's and doctoral
graduates ceremony. The crowd at the Creative Arts Center gave them a thunderous
said her parents are happy for her. But, with her grandparents and other
relatives still in Nepal, they're a bit uneasy
"I'm trying to enjoy this, but then we are always worried," she said. "I'm just hoping that there wouldn't be any aftershocks."
taking a much-deserved breather after submitting her dissertation, Dhungana
spent the last few weeks in Morgantown working with the Nepalese Students and
Scholars Association to raise money and awareness for her native homeland
she is hoping that, with her Ph.D., she can help women gain a larger political
and economic voice in Nepal, which she described as a patriarchal society.
76 years in the making
You may already know about Anthony "Tony" Brutto.
As WVU's oldest newest graduate at 94, Brutto recently made global headlines – his story was featured in Time, CNN, The Washington Post, Huffington Post, People and the London Daily Mail, just to name a few.
Morgantown man first entered WVU in 1939 – when tuition was just $50 – but left
when he was drafted in the Army Air Corps in 1942. Brutto returned in 1946 but
again, right before finishing his degree, he had to withdraw. This time he left
to take care of his ill wife.
years later, Brutto finally did it. On Sunday, he earned his Regents
Bachelor of Arts degree.
for serving our country, for taking care of your family and for being a true
Mountaineer,” Gee said, as Brutto’s daughter and grandchildren joined him at
the Mountaineer Send-off.
success stories of Brutto and some of his fellow 2015 graduates were captured
in the WVU Chronicles website.
Quitting to win
Quitting isn't always a bad thing – as Brutto's story illustrates.
The story of Jeremy Booker says the same.
raised by a single mother in Charleston and initially came to WVU to play tight
end on the football team.
on the football field did not last. He eventually quit the team.
words, he had to quit football to mature as an adult, overcome financial
hardship and improve his grades.
is what happened.
became the first black student marshal in the petroleum
and natural gas engineering department. Not only did he excel in the classroom, but for the last three years he
has worked full-time in the oil and gas industry.
he became the first engineer ever in his family.
graduate, Heather Adams, of the School
of Pharmacy, plans to take her fused knowledge of pharmacy and athletics
back to her hometown of Reedsville, Pennsylvania.
a thrower on the WVU women's track and field team. She threw discus, hammer and
combination of track and pharmacy school has influenced how I emphasize to
patients that healthy lifestyle changes may be enough to initially manage their
disease state," Adams said. "Also, when I am counseling, I often
bring up and encourage exercise for my patients."
return to her hometown and work for CVS Health while she volunteers as a coach
with local athletes.
Booker, Adams and their 4,000-plus fellow members of the Class of 2015 plan to
make their own special imprint on the world, one Reed
College of Media graduate's dream goes beyond Earth.
Basham's goal is to become the "first Mountaineer to tweet from
all the amazing things happening in space, we need people who can tell those
stories," she said.
already made strides. She has interned with NASA and will begin a full-time job
there on Monday.
graduates, the weekend served as a family affair that seemed a little too
of Business and Economics, a pair of twins – Bailey Lynch and her brother Adam – became the third
generation of Lynches to graduate from WVU.
parents, Jim and Lisa, received degrees during Gee's first stint as president
in the early 1980s.
were able to get a photo with President Gee and Bailey and Adam," said Jim
Lynch. "WVU has done so much for me in my life so it was very special.”
Words from the wise
If the journey thus far hasn't provided enough inspiration for new grads, the Class of 2015 certainly got a dose of encouragement from this weekend's guest speakers – ranging from an Olympic gold medalist to the senior vice president of ESPN SportsCenter to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Matthews Burwell, who capped off the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences undergraduate ceremony, the largest on campus.
was recognized with the University's first Presidential Honorary Degree, Doctor
of Science. A native of Hinton, Burwell previously served as director of the
White House Office of Management and Budget, president of the Walmart
Foundation and president of the Global Development Program of the Bill and
Melinda Gates Foundation.
speech, Burwell attributed her successes to small-town West Virginia values.
made me who I am and I take it with me wherever I go," she said. "My
office in Washington is full of pictures and memorabilia from my life there: a
map of the state, pictures of my family and friends. That community supported
me and gave to me in incredible ways.
kind of support sticks with you. In Hinton, and here in West Virginia, people
take care of each other. My mother wouldn’t let us go trick-or-treating for
ourselves until we had trick-or-treated for UNICEF. We hit each house once for
donations and then another time for candy."
explained that the degrees received by the graduates do not signify an end, or
even a personal statement.
also want you to know that for all of its importance, the degree you receive
today isn’t who you are," she said. "You are so much more than a
piece of paper, no matter how impressive."
receiving honorary degrees this year include Preston Wu Shyon Chen, a WVU
alumnus and founder and chairman of Ho Tun Industries based in Taipei, Taiwan;
Charlene Marshall, former Morgantown mayor and member of the West Virginia
House of Delegates; and Doug Van Scoy, a WVU alumnus and noted investor.
Breaking the Internet
The Class of 2015 probably thought they'd seen the last of assignments and exams. They were wrong.
President Gee presented them with one, quirky final test: To "break the Internet."
At each of
the six ceremonies Gee attended, he asked graduates to take selfies, slap them
with #WVUgrad and tweet them out in attempt to get the hashtag trending in
of 2015 obliged, and #WVUgrad trended in the Pittsburgh region all weekend.
onslaught of selfies began as early as Thursday with the Mountaineer Send-off. There,
some 600 graduates enjoyed decorating their mortarboards, sharing memories in a
video booth, wolfing down a West Virginia tradition -- pepperoni rolls -- and
singing “Country Roads” with friends and families.
Gee hosted the first-ever event to bring the Class of 2015 together at the WVU Coliseum one last time – to “have some fun and to
celebrate” -- before they begin their new adventures as alumni.
students attending the sendoff had some specific plans.
graduate Maad El-Gali, of Libya, said he loved his time at WVU, and is now on
to the University of South Carolina to pursue a Ph.D. and someday teach Arabic
to U.S. citizens.
journalism graduate Maurice Matthews, of Washington D.C., plans to return home
to pursue a career in TV journalism, and said his professors in the Reed
College of Media “taught him well, pushed him hard and convinced him he could do
anything.” What he loved most about his University experience was meeting
people from all over the world and enjoying the diversity that a major
Sisters Meredith and Amy Rogers, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, did some photo bombing in the booths provided; Meredith was graduating this weekend with a criminology degree; Amy is a 2011 WVU grad who returned to celebrate her sister’s success.
Proud dad, Tom Ponceroff, and his son, Zach, were seen taking a selfie with Gee. The president signed Tom’s diploma in 1982 and now Zach’s as a business management grad.
of other students also had their picture taken with the president as they
picked up his special gift to them – Dr. Seuss’ book, "Oh, the Places
like the beginning of many students' WVU careers – singing "Country
Roads" at New Student Welcome – they ended their WVU careers on that very
note at the conclusion of each Commencement ceremony.
conquered. Next up, the world.
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