WVU Provost Wheatly Delivers PSC's Commencement Speech

To follow is Provost of West Virginia University Michele Wheatly's comments to the graduates participating in Potomac State College's 108th Commencement that was held Saturday, May 7, in the Church-McKee Arts Center.

On average, I give two-to-five speeches a day, but never before have I been asked to deliver a commencement address, although I have listened to and graded dozens of them! So I did what any good life-long learner would do….I Googled. “How to give a Rousing Commencement Address” and there is a ton of step-by-step advice….how to be funny (their advice -- leave it to the professionals), how to find inspirational quotes (there is even a quote garden where you plant and cultivate sayings???). There is a reminder not to talk about myself and the admonishment…..NEVER ever to exceed 15 minutes. In an age where the senior class may whip out their smart phones to tweet, a speaker can no longer count on her audience giving their polite attention when they are bored to tears. OK…let’s start.

Step 1: Welcome, acknowledge and recognize who is here:

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WVU Provost Michele Wheatly

On behalf of President Jim Clements and the entire senior leadership team, I want to welcome you to the 108th Annual Commencement at Potomac State College of West Virginia University. Your presence here is important whether you are a graduating student, parent, friend, or faculty, or staff member.

So, I would like to begin with my own congratulations….YOU DID IT!! Bravo! There is something to be said for ceremony and regalia and marching and protocol. Hey, I was born British…we thrive on this stuff! I know that each of you went through a lot to get to this point and this moment is not only for you but also for your families who went through a lot of sacrifice so that you could succeed. There is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. We are all shaped by the influence and examples of countless others, parents, grandparents, friends, rivals. And by those who wrote music that moves us to our souls, those whose performance on the stage or playing field took our breath away, those who wrote the great charters that are the bedrock of our system of government.

And by teachers….I want to stress as emphatically the immeasurable importance of teachers. So I would ask all of our graduates to rise, look out into the crowd and make your supporters feel appreciated. The faculty at Potomac State College taught you well and the Morgantown campus recognizes the efforts of this Jewel in the Crown of West Virginia University and its outstanding Campus Provost Kerry Odell. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Step 2: Always acknowledge WHO is here:

Let me share with you the demographics of the graduating class. There are those who will graduate magna cum laude (Pr Lordy), others who will graduate summa cum laude (pr. Lordy) and still others who will graduate thank you Lordy!! You all made it!

234 students were approved to participate in today’s Commencement.

 55% of the graduates are female and 45% are male.

 80% of the graduates are West Virginia residents and 20% of the graduates are residents of other states.

The youngest graduate is 18 years old: the oldest graduate is 70 years young!  

We have 23 Bachelor of Applied Science graduates this year which is the highest number of BAS graduates we have had since we introduced the four-year degrees in 2007. 

Step 3: Acknowledge the occasion

I want you to stop for a moment and think about the etymological origins of the word “commencement”. Commencement is the beginning not the end. In the words of Susan B. Anthony “Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing “. Our real lives are measured by ordinary time, so make every day a commencement.

With pop culture’s obsession with Reality TV, we could consider Today is the beginning of second season or Act II. I know there are a lot of different reality shows unfolding among our graduates. Some graduates are leaving at the intermission with two-year degrees and won’t return next season. Some are returning for Act 2 at a four- year institution and some have completed their Regents Bachelors of Arts degrees that will be conferred next weekend in Morgantown. But the thing about this drama is that it is real life and it continues each and every day with the opportunity to do something meaningful with what you learned with us.

Step 4: Congratulate, praise, motivate and encourage the new graduates as they go out into the real world with gas at $4 a gallon  

You graduate at a time in American history when we have recently experienced a full throated economic recession, and unemployment is at record high levels. You graduate in a month when hundreds of your fellow citizens are reeling from the devastation of last week’s tornados and others are bracing for the anticipated flooding of the Mississsippi River. You graduate in a year when the citizens of the world watched freedom fever raging through the Middle East, puzzled over the time required to cap the leaking oil well in the gulf and joined in solidarity with humankind worldwide in the hope that the 33 Chilean miners would be rescued safely. You graduate at a time of extraordinary hardship, yet still imbued with the urgency, energy and perseverance to change the world. As millennials you are neither cynical nor alienated. You are inclusive when it comes to race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. You want to build coalitions, you are socially networked.  

We need you, each one of you, to go out into the world and make it a better place! You are the generation who must find a path back to prosperity. 

Find something that you love to do. Work fills one third of your life. Each year has 526,176 minutes based on a 365.4 day calendar. Est average life expectancy worldwide as of 2008 was 66.12 years. That would make the average number of minutes in a life time to be approximately 34,790,757. Don’t waste a minute of it.  

Make connections, but don’t expect to connect the dots yet! To quote Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple and Pixar, “ It was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards 10 years later. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something, your gut, destiny, life, Karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads off the well-worn path and that will make all the difference”

Now, my next instruction tells me to tell you to “Dream the Impossible Dream”. Instead I’m going to reiterate the Potomac State College vision to “Realize What’s Possible”. There is no “there” out there. That and there is here and now and resides in YOU: That elusive “there” with the job, the beach house, the dream, the perfect partner, it’s not out there. There is here. It’s in you, right now. Happiness is where you find it.

The best thing you learned in your time at Potomac State College is to “Keep Learning.” In the past, a college degree might have been the only formal learning that an educated person needed to engage in. But technology and solutions are changing rapidly. One thing we know for now is that your graduating class will change jobs several times and some of those jobs don’t even exist yet. So be prepared, you will need to reeducate yourselves…for sure.

Educate yourselves on the big problems of the day and think like a global citizen. How will we feed the growing population of planet earth? How will we keep the lights shining in an increasingly technological world? How can we secure world peace?

Be brave and face your fears in life. And don’t take life for granted. This past year I learned that lesson in a hard way. I was lucky enough to eat supper with Tim Heatherington, photojournalist and academy award nominee for “Restrepo” a movie filmed while he was embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Less than a month after he visited Morgantown as part of the FOI, he was killed in Misrata, Libya while covering the front line. I will never forget him and how he shared his career with our students. He was a warrior of another kind, brave beyond imagination.

Travel and become a foreigner either abroad or in your own land. Learn about other cultures and value system. Our world is diverse and being out of your comfort zone is good.

You will find the working world liberating. You’re on a team, you don’t need to compete for grades.

You will need to be prepared to perform some mindless tasks in any job you do…..ask me, I’m the Provost and there is still routine in my day.

Expect to put in as many hours on the job as in the library.

And even though you may not be expecting a grade, people are still reviewing your work!

And you will need to network….hey, I know you have that box checked. Some of you already have 1000 facebook friends. You need to consider how to cultivate connections that could further you professionally. You need to take some of those photos off your page! 

When you ask any successful person what is the greatest gift of success, you will find it is not the money or the mansion or the private jet, but the power to help human kind. This is an area where we can all be leaders. You have been educated in order to educate others and to leave the world a better place.

And my final advice to the 108th Graduating Class of Potomac State College. It’s still the small things that count

I would like to end with a real story from Joann C. Jones “During my second year of nursing school our professor gave us a quiz.  I breezed through the questions until I read the last one:  ‘What is the first name of the person who cleans the building?’  Surely this was a joke.  I had seen the custodian several times, but how would I know their name?  I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank.  Before the class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our grade.  ‘Absolutely,’ the professor said.  ‘In your careers, you will meet many people.  All are significant.  They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello.’  I've never forgotten that lesson.  I also learned her name was Dorothy.”