Hundreds accept degrees at MU
HUNTINGTON — As family, friends and Marshall University's Class of 2013 filtered into Big Sandy Superstore Arena on Saturday morning, a slight drizzle turned into a steady rain.
But the dreary weather outside was no match for the celebration inside, as hundreds of undergraduate students received their degrees during morning commencement. At 2 p.m., a second commencement ceremony was held for graduate and doctoral students.
Those who took part were among 1,507 earning degrees this year, including 986 undergraduates, 439 graduate students and 72 from the School of Medicine. In addition, 16 graduated with perfect 4.0 grade point averages.
"I'm scared, sad and excited ... for the next journey in life," said Bethany Frame, a Flatwoods, W.Va., native who received her nursing degree. "It's been a long four years, and I have worked extremely hard."
Parents expressed just as many emotions as their girls and boys transitioning into the professional world.
"He's not little anymore," said Jessica Hall of her son, Jeremy, who earned a degree in computer science. "He's worked hard to get where he's at today. And we're extremely proud."
The morning ceremony included a welcome from Marshall President Stephen Kopp, who said every student has a story about their journey to graduation day. He took time to mention a few, including Marshall employee Ralph Jones, who, at 59, was earning his Regents bachelor of arts.
There was Jessica Meadows, who had a daughter not long after high school and came to Marshall in 1999 to start in the nursing program, but had a second child and decided to be a stay-at-home mom. After having two more children, Meadows re-enrolled at Marshall in 2008 when the engineering program returned and, on Saturday, was earning her degree in civil engineering.
Kopp also congratulated Aaron Preece, a Huntington High School graduate who earned a perfect GPA as a blind student. He said Preece does things differently but doesn't see his difficulties as more or less challenging than the ones his peers face.
As Kopp said, every student had a story to tell. Alexandria Amorim's was emblazoned on her cap with the message, "This one's for you mom." Her mother, Kimberly, died suddenly when Amorim was still a student at Wayne High School. But she said her mom's dream was for her daughter to go to college. She earned a degree in math education and is ready to start teaching.
"Words cannot describe her mother's pride right now," said Charlene Gill, Amorim's aunt and Kimberly's sister. "We always knew she would do this for her mom."
Another came from Lance West Jr., a St. Joseph Central Catholic High School alumni who took 20 hours a semester and classes during the summer to graduate in three years with a degree in international business.
His father, Lance West, is the vice president for development with the Marshall University Foundation and previously served as director of intercollegiate athletics. He also earned his master's degree from Marshall.
"Both mom and dad went here and just made me embrace the university," West said. "It's a true definition of family."
In June, he will head to Washington, D.C., to work in the office of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
"No matter where I go, Marshall will be a part of me," he said.
Before degrees were conferred, the undergraduate students were treated to a talk from keynote speaker James C. Smith, the president and chief executive officer of Thomson Reuters and a 1981 Marshall graduate. Smith, who came to Marshall on a football scholarship from a small farming town in Kentucky, started his career as a journalist. He said he never would have imagined that his path would lead him to becoming the head of a company that employs 60,000 people in 140 countries.
A lot of luck and good fortunes were mixed in, he said. But, while stressing the importance of resiliency, he said there also will be tough times, mentioning the loss of 11 colleagues in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the death of his 21-year-old son from a freak bacterial infection.
He also encouraged students to embrace change and be fearless. Then, he quoted a colleague who told him, "Employers need thinkers and problem-solvers; not just heads filled with facts."
"The easiest path will always be the most familiar, but not the one that leads to personal growth," Smith said.
He told graduates to "go like hell" after their passions, reminded them that values still matter and challenged them to see the world as he does now.
"Today, more than ever, it doesn't matter where you come from," Smith said. "It matters where you are going."
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