WCU honors 1,140 students during spring commencement ceremonies

Arnold Gore, a senior criminal justice student from White Castle, La., returns to his seat after crossing the stage at commencement.

Arnold Gore, a senior criminal justice student from White Castle, La., returns to his seat after crossing the stage at commencement.

It was commencement-times-two on the campus of Western Carolina University on Saturday, May 10, as the university held two ceremonies to accommodate the largest graduating class in its history.

WCU Chancellor John W. Bardo presided over the university’s first-ever Graduate School Commencement at 10 a.m. in the Ramsey Regional Activity Center, and that event was followed by a ceremony for undergraduate students at 4 p.m.

WCU typically holds combined commencement ceremonies for graduate and undergraduate students three times each year – in May, August and December – but the size of the current graduating class made it necessary to switch to two commencements because the expected crowd would exceed capacity at the Ramsey Center.

Keredith Owens, a master's degree student from Cherokee, is part of the first class of graduate students in the master's degree program in social work honored at spring commencement.

Keredith Owens, a master’s degree student from Cherokee, is part of the first class of graduate students in the master’s degree program in social work honored at spring commencement.

The university’s spring 2008 class totals about 1,140 students – 260 graduate students and 880 undergraduate students. The exact size of the class won’t be determined until all results are calculated from final exams.

With their families and friends looking on at the Graduate School Commencement, Bardo told the graduating students that earning their advanced degrees shows that they can compete in today’s world and have the ability to affect change.

“You have the ability to change fundamentally the way in which our children are educated,” said Bardo. “You have the ability to fundamentally change the quality of the environment that they inherit so they don’t get the problems we have. You also have the potential to create cures for illnesses, solve energy problems, create new jobs and products, and take active roles as leaders in your community, in your region, in your state. You’ve got the mind for it. You’ve got the ability. You’ve shown you have the stick-to-it-ness, and now you’ve got the education.”

The Graduate School class includes the first 10 students who have completed WCU’s master’s degree program in social work. Looking at the class as a whole, the most popular fields of study for the class are education, entrepreneurship and psychology.

Graduation volunteer Melissa Johnson smiles when Shawna Hyde, a recreational therapy student from Andrews, hugs her grandmother-in-law Mattie Garrett before spring commencement.

Graduation volunteer Melissa Johnson smiles when Shawna Hyde, a recreational therapy student from Andrews, hugs her grandmother-in-law Mattie Garrett before spring commencement.

During the afternoon ceremony, Bardo reminded the undergraduate students that they had contributed to the life of WCU.

“You have helped make Western a force for the future,” said Bardo. “We’re proud of you. We’re proud of what you accomplished, and we’ll continue to watch your development with great pride.”

WCU’s undergraduate class includes the first three students to receive degrees in electrical engineering from the university. That bachelor’s degree program is offered in conjunction with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Also, the undergraduate class includes the largest-ever group of graduating students from WCU’s Honors College – 57 students – and the 2,000th graduate of the nursing program.

The three most popular majors for the undergraduate class are criminal justice, nursing and elementary education.

A complete list of graduates from both commencements will be announced following the posting of grades from final examinations.