Western Carolina University held a pair of commencement ceremonies at Ramsey Regional Activity Center on Saturday (May 7) to honor the academic accomplishments of approximately 925 undergraduate students, while also taking time out to recognize the service of outgoing Chancellor John W. Bardo.
Commencement for the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Education and Allied Professions, and Fine and Performing Arts was held at 10 a.m., and that event was followed by a 3:30 p.m. ceremony for the College of Business, College of Health and Human Sciences, and Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology.
A special guest at the afternoon commencement was Thomas W. Ross, president of the University of North Carolina system, who brought greetings from the UNC Board of Governors.
“We are here today to pay tribute to you and your achievements,” Ross said to the graduating students. “All of us are very proud of you. Because of the knowledge, competencies and skills you have gained here, your minds are sharp and filled with ideas.
“You are prepared for the adventures, opportunities and challenges that life will bring you,” Ross said. “I give each of you graduates our heartfelt congratulations on this – your big day – and I thank you for allowing me to share it with you.”
Ross also read a “Proclamation of Appreciation” that lists many of the milestones of Bardo’s tenure, including new highs in enrollment and academic quality, a massive construction effort to better serve the educational and personal needs of students, and work to establish WCU as a catalyst for sustainable economic development. The proclamation also takes note of WCU’s Quality Enhancement Plan, which emphasizes strong connections between students’ academic and extracurricular activities, and the Millennial Initiative, an ambitious economic development strategy designed to enable private business and industry to collaborate with the university.
Bardo will leave the chancellor’s post on July 1 after 16 years in that position.
“To summarize, what will be known as ‘the Bardo years’ at WCU have been radical, remarkable and transformational for an institution seeking to renew its role in education and service in the early years of the 21st century,” Ross said, reading from the proclamation.
“Over the past 16 years, with you at the helm, this university has been changed for the better in many ways, and the beneficiaries of those changes are the students who have and will represent this institution in Western North Carolina, across the state and around the world. On behalf of Western Carolina University’s students, alumni, faculty, staff and friends, and the citizens of Western North Carolina and the state of North Carolina, we submit to you, Dr. John W. Bardo, our enduring thanks and appreciation for service extraordinarily well done.”
Responding to the proclamation, Bardo said advancements made by the university during his tenure are the result of the efforts of many people. “I’ve had the pleasure of serving as the spokesperson and cheerleader for this campus for 16 years, but there’s a reality, and the reality is that one person doesn’t do very much,” he said. “It takes an entire team of people, and this university is blessed with an outstanding faculty, a tremendous staff and with leadership on our board of trustees that is second to none in the state of North Carolina.”
Ross’ tasks during the afternoon ceremony also included presenting the UNC system’s highest teaching honor, the Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching, to Aaron K. Ball, professor of engineering and technology in WCU’s Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology. One award is given annually to a faculty member on each UNC campus to recognize superior teaching. Ball was the featured speaker at WCU’s May 6 Graduate School commencement.
Bardo delivered the chancellor’s charge to the graduating students at all three ceremonies. During the Saturday morning undergraduate commencement, he spoke of the great economic and societal changes he has seen during his career in academics. “We know the world is going to continue to change a lot and the old ways of doing business aren’t the ways we’ll be doing business in the future,” he said.
“What that means is that we need great leadership, and you are the people with the skills,” he said to the graduating students. “My charge to you is to use your education for good and to understand that using an education is more than making a living, although you have to do that. It’s also about giving back and being responsible.
“We all look forward to seeing what you do with your great Western Carolina University education.”
The undergraduate students who have been completing their degrees at WCU this semester are part of a graduating class that totals about 1,250 students. The class includes 111 undergraduate students who are enrolled in the university’s Honors College, which is the largest group of graduates in the 13-year history of that program for high-achieving students.
The class also includes the first graduate from the university’s new bachelor’s degree program in international studies. The program was launched in fall 2010.
A complete list of all of WCU’s new graduates will be announced following the posting of grades from final examinations.