WCU’s Graduate School holds commencement

A Western Carolina University faculty member recognized as one of the University of North Carolina system’s best teachers delivered the primary address Friday (May 7) as WCU held commencement exercises to honor the accomplishments of current and former graduate students.

About 270 students currently enrolled in WCU’s Graduate School were eligible to participate in the ceremony at Ramsey Regional Activity Center. Those students recently have been completing academic requirements to receive their degrees.

The current students were joined in being honored by approximately 230 individuals who completed degree requirements last summer or fall, and who already have been conferred degrees. Those graduates were scheduled to take part in WCU’s regular fall commencement last December, but that event was canceled due to a snowstorm that struck the region.

 In his address, Gibbs Knotts, associate professor of political science and public affairs, told the Ramsey Center audience, “We have a lot to celebrate this evening. The people affiliated with this institution – students, alumni, faculty, staff and administrators – have a lot to celebrate.”

Knotts said the reasons for celebrating include “world-renowned faculty at all stages of their careers” and outstanding academic programs. “But most importantly, you as graduates have a lot to celebrate,” Knotts said to those dressed in caps and gowns. “You should be commended for all of your hard work, perseverance and dedication.”

For some of the graduates, commencement represents the culmination of many continuous years of attending school, beginning with preschool, while others enrolled in graduate studies after deciding to switch careers in mid-life, Knotts said.

“When I think about what makes Western Carolina’s graduate programs so special, it is this mix of people,” Knotts said. “Different people, from different backgrounds, at different stages of their careers, all focused on the common goals of personal and professional enrichment.

“Each one of you has a story to be proud of. Each one of you is here because of your hard work and the support of family and friends,” he said.

Knotts recently was named a recipient of the UNC system’s highest teaching honor, the Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching. One award is given annually to a faculty member on each UNC campus to recognize superior teaching.

In his charge to the graduating students and former students, WCU Chancellor John W. Bardo spoke about the economic upheaval that is prevalent around the world. “As you leave WCU with your advanced degrees, you’re going to be in a world seeing major change,” he said. “It isn’t going to slow down, but you have the background and skills to make a different in your community, in your state and in your nation.

“You can help lead in finding a better way to educate our children, create new and innovative ways to preserve our environment, create new cures for illnesses, solve energy problems and create new jobs and products, and you can take active roles in our communities and government,” he said. “I ask you to truly use the education you’ve gained here not just to make a living, but to make a difference.

“We’re proud of what you have accomplished here, and those of us who remain in Cullowhee will follow your development with admiration,” Bardo said. “Congratulations and all the best on a job well done.”

The graduate students who have been completing their degrees this spring semester are part of the largest graduating class in WCU’s history. With a spring undergraduate class of about 1,000 students, the total spring class is expected to number about 1,270.