CULLOWHEE – Members of Western Carolina University ‘s newest graduating class were encouraged to consider the “worth and poetry” of their own names as Western held commencement for approximately 415 students Friday, Aug. 6.
In the primary commencement address, Mimi Fenton, associate professor of English at Western, urged the graduating students to reflect on the deep meanings behind their formal names before each one was called in “somber formality” and the students crossed the stage to enter their next lives.
“In a few moments, you and your family are going to hear your name – your full name – announced with all the grandeur, dignity and poetry that your parents endowed it with when they gave it to you,” Fenton said.
“This is one of those moments in your life, when your full name is announced, that you will live up to its history and its poetry,” she said. “It will sound like the toll of a bell that signals that you and the world will never be quite the same again.
“If hearts were like continents, this would be one of those moments when the ground shifts, like plate tectonics, and the world is different and a new age is about to begin,” she said.
Fenton also encouraged the students to hang onto the books and notes left over from their Western classes.
“As you step into this new era in your life, I hope you will keep all of that, if not near at hand, then near to your heart,” Fenton said. “It will remind you not just of your past, but just how important learning is, and it will remind you that you have to read to learn.”
“Read so that you will remember that not all motion means progress, and that the here and now may not be the epitome of what humanity can be. Read books that excite your imagination because they will help you to imagine ways to shape our world into a more open-minded, compassionate and humane world.”
As she spoke to the crowd of students, families and friends at Western’s Ramsey Regional Activity Center, Fenton, whose teaching includes Renaissance literature, spoke of the phrase “nosce teipsum,” which translates into “read thyself.”
“It is an injunction to take time with yourself and to take yourself as seriously as you would a good book,” she said. “Think now of your favorite book – your all-time favorite book. Consider yourself with that same depth of pleasure.”
“Read yourself with as keen an intellectual eye to comprehend the meaning of your actions. Love the places that your mind takes you, and learn what these places teach you. The better reader you are of yourself, the more likely you will be to understand your own heart,” Fenton said.
“That wonderful Renaissance philosopher, Blaise Pascal, reminds us that the heart often has reasons that the mind will never comprehend. In that case, reading yourself can be complicated business. It will have to be your life’s work along with whatever else you do.”
Earlier this year, Fenton was recognized as one of The University of North Carolina system’s premier teachers when she was named one of 16 recipients of the UNC Board of Governors Awards for Excellence in Teaching.
In his charge to the graduating class, Western Chancellor John W. Bardo recognized one particular group of students – 37 Jamaican educators who are receiving Western teaching degrees – and one individual, an assistant principal at Asheville’s Reynolds High School .
Taking note of the fact that Western’s commencement fell on the same day as Jamaican Independence Day, Bardo congratulated the Jamaican students, many of whom are graduating with honors. Western has cooperated with the Jamaican government for more than 30 years in providing teacher education for that country’s citizens, and today, thousands of Western alumni teach in Jamaica, Bardo said.
Bardo also recognized the perseverance of graduate student Joe Hough of Reynolds High School in earning his master’s degree. A Hendersonville resident, Hough began working on his degree in school administration in 1999, but his efforts were delayed by his role as captain in the 55 th engineering unit of the Army National Guard, Bardo said.
Over the years, Hough has served in the Marshall Islands, assisted with two hurricane cleanups, and spent the last year on homeland security duty. Soon, Hough will leave again for special training with an on-alert homeland security team, Bardo said.
Bardo congratulated all the graduating students in meeting their goals during a time in which Western faculty are continuing to “raise standards significantly and push to ensure that every graduate of Western has the opportunity to achieve a world-class education.”
“Your being here today demonstrates that you have the ability, the will and the drive to succeed in anything you choose to do in life,” Bardo said. “You should be proud of all you’ve accomplished.”
A complete list of graduates will be announced following the posting of grades from final examinations.