Graduates thanked for academic and athletic contributions, creative talents

CULLOWHEE – Western Carolina University Chancellor John W. Bardo conferred degrees on approximately 400 students as the university held summer commencement exercises on Friday, Aug. 10.

In her commencement address, Gayle H. Miller, WCU associate professor of English, said it wasn’t her intention to impart pearls of wisdom to the new graduates during her speech. To get that, “go to someone who has advised you ably in the past,” Miller said.

Instead, Miller chose to express gratitude to the graduates, thanking them for what they have meant to the university community in terms of academics, creative talents and athletics.

“Thank you for your commitment to academic excellence – for the papers you have written, the projects you have completed. Thank you for opening your eyes to the vastness of the heavens, as well as to the minute world of the human gene,” she said.

“Thank you for your dedication to the liberal arts – to science and health and English and math and history – all the disciplines, the knowledge of which is truly an indication of a complete human being, one willing to play his or her role in an educated society founded on liberty, in a society that acknowledges that the lessons of the past are critical in the decisions for the future.”

“I want to thank you, also, for your creative talents,” Miller told the graduates. “You have inspired us with your musical abilities. The marching band has brought us cheering to our feet more times than we can count. Thank you for senior recitals that make us proud to have played a small role in bringing you this far. Thank you for theatrical performances such as the one where you made the universality, the timelessness, of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ obvious to audiences who might never have experienced the wonder of Shakespeare.

“Thank you for art exhibits that take our breath away, for creative writing that makes us pause in wonder at the richness of your creativity and your imagination. Thank you for dance that makes our hearts soar,” Miller said.

“Thank you for your excellence in athletics. From football to women’s soccer, you have thrilled us with your skill, your dedication, your energy and competitiveness. Thank you for that winning goal, that spectacular home run with the bases loaded, that hole-in-one that seemed impossible. Thank you for playing in front of audiences far too small when compared with the effort that you were putting forth – and I hope that when you come back as alums it will be to stadiums and gyms and playing fields and tracks with standing room only. Thank you for playing with your whole heart, no matter the odds,” Miller said.

“Thank you, also, for your sheer joy in just being alive, whether you exhibited this joy in cleaning up the Tuckaseigee, taking part in the Homecoming parade, or simply playing touch football at the intramural field. You remind us of lessons that we sometimes forget. Life is precious. It must be savored. It must be lived to the fullest.”

Earlier this year, Miller 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.

Among the graduating students at Western’s Aug. 10 commencement were 71 residents of Jamaica, all of whom received bachelor’s degrees in middle grades education.