From the mountains of West Virginia to cities and towns across the country and around the world, West Virginia University graduates and their families gathered around computers and other smart devices to attend Mountaineer Graduation Day on Saturday (May 16).
The online experience, created due to social distancing restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, provided an opportunity for graduates to mark an important milestone and share familiar commencement traditions.
“Over the past several years, you have faced and overcome a myriad of challenges, but the coronavirus pandemic may be the biggest disruption you have experienced in your lifetime,” Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Maryanne Reed said. “But you handled it. And you kept alive your ambitions, hopes and dreams.”
“You’ve earned your success — through hard work, dedication to personal growth and Mountaineer resiliency. And this says a lot about your ability to face the future.”
President Gordon Gee’s message highlighted the grit and determination that have always fueled Mountaineers. “That spirit empowered your quest for a degree, and it will continue to sustain you during this difficult time.” Gee added, “As you continue traveling toward your dreams in the years ahead, you will understand better than any class before you that journeys can make shocking and unexpected detours.”
That resonated with Hedgesville native Emily Sayampanathan, and Heather Carr, from Middletown, N.J., who were called to active duty in mid-March to provide pandemic relief efforts with the West Virginia National Guard.
A member of the Honors College and School of Medicine graduate, Sayampanathan serves as medical technician with the 167th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg where she conducts fitness-for-duty exams on newly deployed airmen, and Carr, who received her master’s degree in social work, serves with the 1201st Forward Support Company to deliver personal protective equipment and prepare meals at food banks across the state.
“Finding the motivation to complete coursework after a long day with the Guard was my biggest challenge,” Carr said. “The pandemic caused an unexpected change to my routine as a graduate student, but I am committed to serving the state and communities in need of support.”
As students shared their journeys, a common thread emerged: a “sense of togetherness” while attending a large university and Vice President and Executive Dean of Health Sciences Clay Marsh reminded the graduates to appreciate these incredibly strong bonds formed during their time at WVU.
And Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Meshea Poore urged them to remember those bonds and do their part to make sure they encourage and build an inclusive community throughout the nation.
John Chambers, former CEO and Chairman of Cisco Systems Inc. and founder and CEO of JC2 Ventures, a native of Charleston and a two-time WVU alumnus asked graduates to give back to the University, their community, family and friends.
Gee noted this year’s Presidential Honorary degree recipient embodies those words. Brad Paisley’s love for his home state often brings him back “especially when we need him the most,” Gee said.
“In these times it’s such an honor to be holding this,” Paisley said. The Glen Dale native and country music star encouraged the class of 2020 to go out into the world and use their degrees to make a difference.
Other notable moments:
- The online event included a special tribute to ROTC cadets and student veterans.
- The School of Nursing MSN/MBA and Health Informatic and Information Management programs saw their first graduates.
- Sixty-two student athletes completed degrees, including football players Michael Brown and Josh Norwood, along with women’s basketball player Tynice Martin and volleyball player Lindsay Proctor.
During the broadcast, students engaged via WVU’s various social media platforms using #WVUgrad and following @WestVirginiaU on Twitter and Instagram and WVU Mountaineers on Facebook. They could also share their memories and show how much they’ve changed from their freshman to senior year with a “Then and Now” Instagram feature.
Additionally, WVU launched a special augmented reality filter, which allowed the nearly 4,500 graduates to don a mortarboard as they received their diplomas. That was followed by the traditional singing of “Country Roads” which took on special meaning as Brad Paisley led a rendition featuring current and former Mountaineers spanning the globe.
The event will be available on the WestVirginiaU YouTube Channel and added to the Commencement archive.
May graduates are invited back to Morgantown for a special ceremony Dec. 19 to celebrate their accomplishments in person at the WVU Coliseum.