Rainy skies outside didn’t dampen the enthusiasm inside Western Carolina University’s Ramsey Regional Activity Center as the university held a pair of commencement ceremonies to honor a record-breaking spring class of approximately 1,150 graduating students, and another group of about 100 students who will complete requirements for their degrees later this summer.
A capacity crowd of 6,600 packed the Ramsey Center on Saturday, May 9, as WCU held commencement for about 860 undergraduate students who have completed their course work this spring.
In his charge to the graduating students, WCU Chancellor John W. Bardo spoke about the branding process that the university carried out over the past year. The company hired to oversee that process spoke to hundreds of people affiliated with WCU and boiled their feedback down into one sentence, Bardo said.
“That one sentence is an easy way to remember what we’re all about. In today’s language, it’s called a branding statement, but I prefer to think of it as the reason the university exists,” he said. “Really, it’s the university’s core creed.”
That statement, “Western Carolina University offers opportunities for those who aspire to make a difference in their world,” is exemplified in the university’s emphasis on service, Bardo said. Each year, the Corporation for National and Community Service compiles an honor roll of colleges and universities that view service as a critical component of a student’s education, and WCU was one of only 88 institutions across the nation named to the CNCS “President’s Honor Roll with Distinction.” That happened because more than 7,000 of the university’s 9,000 students contributed service to the community, region, state or nation, Bardo said.
“You’re here today because you chose to do the work that prepared you to make a difference,” Bardo said to the graduating students. “Continue to aspire. You are among the state and nation’s best. Congratulations.”
Activities at the May 9 undergraduate commencement also included presentation of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching to Sean O’Connell, WCU associate professor of microbial ecology. One award is given annually to a faculty member on each UNC campus to recognize superior teaching. The award was presented to O’Connell by Board of Governors member Brent Barringer.
O’Connell was the featured speaker Friday, May 8, as WCU held commencement to honor about 290 graduate students who completed degree requirements this spring, and another group of some 100 students who expect to complete course work this summer. After WCU canceled its regular August commencement as a cost-cutting measure, students who would have participated in that ceremony were given the option of taking part in the May 8 ceremony or WCU’s regular December commencement. O’Connell spoke to the graduating students and their family members and friends about individuals who have inspired him during his career. He said the academic degrees earned by WCU’s students “should be viewed as a license for future learning.”
“This means you should stay involved in discovering new things and in making new contributions to your family, community, and ideally, to the larger world,” he said. “Hopefully, all of you will find a job and a career that you love. It is most critical that you stay actively engaged in reading, writing, thinking and doing. “Let me congratulate you on your accomplishments here at Western and wish you the best for a life filled with new discoveries, new understandings, and new perspectives on old beliefs,” O’Connell said.
The spring graduating class of approximately 1,150 students is the largest class in WCU’s history. The previous record class was the 2008 spring class, which included 1,065 graduates.
A complete list of graduates will be announced following the posting of grades from final examinations.