The college graduated approximately 250 students and saw five of them commissioned as Army Reserve second lieutenants during commencement exercises at the David J. Prior Convocation Center.
UVa-Wise Chancellor Donna P. Henry said the school’s role as a public, liberal arts college has focused on preparing its students for success in careers and for citizenship and service.
“UVa-Wise alumni are leaders in medicine, business, law, politics, education, the arts ... essentially every walk of life, and you, the Class of 2019, are well prepared to join more than 11,000 alumni of the college,” said Henry.
Keynote speaker and University of Virginia President James Ryan joked about the presence of Kentucky and Virginia Tech basketball fans in the audience but got serious as he compared UVa-Wise and its students to the efforts of the university’s NCAA championship basketball team earlier this year.
Ryan, who got an early start to Saturday’s ceremonies with a rainy run around the UVa-Wise campus, said the UVa team’s performance taught him five life lessons: admit and own your mistakes; work hard every day; it’s about the team, not you; never give up; and if you succeed, give back.
Ryan cited several examples of those lessons at UVa-Wise, including student-athletes’ hard work and success as well as how the college community rallied around students experiencing family tragedy and hardship.
“For the rest of your life, and through all your success, I hope you remember to give back, including to this place and to these people who have given you so much,” Ryan said. “I hope it’s clear by now that I believe the qualities that made this year’s team great are the same ones that make the College at Wise so special, and the same ones that will help you find success and fulfillment once you leave here.”
The 2019 class’ honorary speakers, Robert Powers and Shannon Bennett, carried similar themes in their speeches. Powers, an honors graduate from Dungannon double-majoring in history and foreign studies, said, “I swore I would never find another place I could call home” after graduating from high school.
“I was totally wrong,” Powers said. Crediting faculty and staff with helping him adjust to college life, Powers said that the college also helped him study overseas and make connections that led to him present research in Germany and publish an essay in a German academic publication.
“I’m here because UVa-Wise’s faith in its students is well-placed,” Powers said. “UVa-Wise has stayed true to a well-rounded liberal arts education.”
Bennett, a mathematics and software engineering double major from Covington, Va., said she graduated high school with a checklist view of how her college life would be before she arrived at UVa-Wise.
“It would provide me with so much more than checked boxes,” Bennett said. “It provided me with a home.”
Bennett said she saw fellow student-athletes going from team practice to engaging in a wide range of academic research in science and liberal arts fields, and she and fellow students in her majors realized it was a matter of devotion to learning.
“UVa-Wise has a place for us to flourish,” Bennett said.
After Henry and Ryan conferred degrees, retired Army Col. Kyle Redman conducted the commissioning ceremony for the five graduating ROTC cadets.
“To you soon-to-be lieutenants, you are about to embark on an amazing journey,” said Redman. “Your service in the greatest army on earth will possibly be the most rewarding thing you will do in life.”
Redman administered the commissioning oath to 2nd Lts. Chris Burnett of Galax, Va.; Endalkachew Kinfemichael of Arlington, Va.; William Law of Earlysville, Va.; Parker Pauley of Sod, W.Va.; and Seth Sheppard of Salem, Va. After the oath, each officer had family members pin officers bars on their uniforms before they took their first salute from their training non-commissioned officers in return for a silver dollar.
Redman credited the support of UVa-Wise leaders with the growth and success of the college’s ROTC program.