HUNTINGTON — Finding the light in a dark world while facing hardships and struggles was the center of discussion at Marshall University’s 2019 winter commencement Saturday at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington.

More than 1,200 students — July, August and December graduates — were honored at Saturday’s ceremony, including 463 master’s and doctoral candidates. About 550 students participated in the event. Unlike the larger spring commencement, winter commencement honors both graduate and undergraduate degree recipients during one morning ceremony.

As is customary for Marshall, where a leading faculty member serves as the guest speaker for winter commencement, April Fugett, professor of psychology, delivered the commencement address.

In her speech, Fugett challenged the graduates as they go out into the world to love, listen and look for stories that make the world a better place among a world full of hate.

“Smile at someone — not because you want or need to smile, but because they really need to smile, or because it’s raining and the whole world looks different in the rain. Maybe you can’t know their stories, but you can make them your human, your family, for a moment or a day, or as long as you get to keep them.”

Christie Kinsey, a member of the Marshall University Board of Governors, recognized the hardships and struggles the students might have faced.

“I know that getting to this point might not have been easy,” Kinsey said. “In fact, it’s likely it has been difficult for some and at times you may very well have wanted to give up. But you didn’t give up. You hung in there, and I’m really proud of every one of you.”

University President Jerome Gilbert gave an example of the struggles, telling a story of one student whose spring graduation was delayed after he decided to donate a kidney to his father. Although the surgery and recovery slowed him down, that student persevered and walked across the stage Saturday.

Each speaker encouraged the graduates to use the same determination to help them excel in wherever life takes them in the future.

Max Lederer, president of the university’s alumni association, asked the graduates to go into the world representing the university well.

“It took a lot of work, time and perseverance to achieve this important goal that you set out to do a long time ago. That effort now pays off and the world owes more to you,” he said. “While your status has changed today from student to graduate, the work now begins. The adventure of life now begins. Get up out of bed, get dressed, get going, have a plan and be ready and willing to adapt.”

After speeches and praise from the staff, students were recognized individually as they crossed the stage to shake hands with Gilbert and their academic dean, with degree conferral taking place during the ceremony finale.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at and via Twitter @HesslerHD.

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