Charles H. Taylor, District 11’s representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, was awarded an honorary doctorate and Frances Owl-Smith, a pathologist in Waynesville, received a major alumni award as Western Carolina University held spring commencement exercises Saturday, May 6.
WCU Chancellor John W. Bardo congratulated approximately 935 candidates for graduate and undergraduate degrees as the near-record class, with their families and friends, filled the Ramsey Regional Activity Center in Cullowhee almost to capacity.
Taylor, a Brevard resident and member of the U.S. House since 1990, received an honorary doctorate of humane letters. Reading from the degree citation, Bardo congratulated Taylor for helping to make Western North Carolina economically competitive in a changing world; for encouraging cooperation throughout the region and with neighboring states; for helping obtain federal assistance for affordable, high-speed Internet access linking WNC and upstate South Carolina; and for supporting federally funded programs and major construction projects at Western.
In his response, Taylor said he was very pleased to receive his honorary degree from Western.
“For those of you who want to go into politics, it must be a service to the public,” he said, citing the examples of President George Washington; modern figures such as WCU alumni Michell Hicks, principal chief of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, and Phil Walker, a Hickory banking executive and former chair of Western’s board of trustees; and others to whom students could look as role models. Taylor also praised Bardo for making Western “one of the strongest universities in the country.”
Billy Cooper, president of the university’s Alumni Association, drew laughter from the audience when he told the graduating students, “Now it’s time for you to go out and get a job, have a family, and start saving for your own child’s education.”
On a more serious note, Cooper presented this year’s Alumni Award for Academic and Professional Achievement to Dr. Owl-Smith, 1983 summa cum laude graduate of Western and the first female member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to become a physician.
Dr. Owl-Smith, pathologist and laboratory medical director at Haywood Regional Medical Center, told the graduating students not to confuse doing well financially with committing good deeds. “Give back to your families and your communities,” she said. “Get a real life and do good.”
In his charge, Bardo reminded members of the graduating class of the many changes they have witnessed during their time in Cullowhee. He noted the growth in university enrollment, the increase in academic standards, new buildings and facilities, the rise in the number of endowed professorships, a recent national award for Western’s teacher education program, and a number of “firsts” in athletics.
Bardo said he would be watching the new graduates with pride, and he urged them to continue to take an active part in the university’s progress.
A complete list of graduates will be announced following the posting of grades from final exams.