Graduate students honored at ceremony

Smiling faces were in abundance as WCU held commencement for graduate students.

Smiling faces were in abundance as WCU held commencement for graduate students at the Ramsey Center.

Commencement photo gallery

A Western Carolina University faculty member who has been recognized as one of the University of North Carolina system’s best teachers delivered the primary address Friday (May 6) as WCU held commencement exercises to honor the accomplishments of approximately 325 graduate students.

In his address to the graduating students and their families and friends, Aaron Ball, professor of engineering and technology, spoke about his philosophy of teaching and desire to utilize “hands-on applications that supplement and reinforce learning in the classroom.”

“To be a good teacher, one must be a good student, committed to staying current in a dynamic global world and passionate about the job,” Ball said. “I am constantly looking at ways to bring reality to the classroom and expose students to experiences that prepare them to go beyond the classroom.

“Students are why we as faculty are here, and the greatest personal motivation is being in a position to make a difference in the lives of our students,” he said. “I feel fortunate to have such a rewarding job.”

WCU Professor Aaron Ball address the audience at Ramsey Regional Activity Center.

WCU Professor Aaron Ball addresses the audience during the ceremony.

Ball also spoke to the graduating students about “being proud and taking pride.”

“Be proud of your accomplishments, and remember this evening, especially,” he said. “Your parents are certainly proud of you and of what you have accomplished, and they have made many sacrifices to get you to where you are today. They deserve your respect and gratitude for being a major part of your success.

“All of you are our most valuable players as the next generation of leaders. It is you who will be our role models, teachers, engineers, nurses, business managers, coaches and parents,” Ball said. “Take pride in your accomplishments, your family, your heritage and yourself. Be proud of who you are, where you came from, and set goals for self-improvement. You are WCU. Be proud to be a Catamount!”

Ball recently was named a recipient of the UNC system’s highest teaching honor, the Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching. One award is given annually to a faculty member on each UNC campus to recognize superior teaching.

Activities at the Graduate School commencement at Ramsey Regional Activity Center included recognition of the accomplishments of Chancellor John W. Bardo, who will be stepping down as the university’s chief executive July 1 after 16 years on the job.

Steve Warren, chair of the WCU Board of Trustees, presented Bardo with a “Proclamation of Appreciation” that lists many of the milestones of his tenure, including new highs in enrollment and academic quality, a massive construction effort to better serve the educational and personal needs of students, and work to establish WCU as a catalyst for sustainable economic development. The proclamation also takes note of WCU’s Quality Enhancement Plan, which emphasizes strong connections between students’ academic and extracurricular activities, and the Millennial Initiative, an ambitious economic development strategy designed to enable private business and industry to collaborate with the university.

“To summarize, what will be known as ‘the Bardo years’ at WCU have been radical, remarkable and transformational for an institution seeking to renew its role in education and service in the early years of the 21st century,” Warren said, reading from the proclamation.

“Over the past 16 years, with you at the helm, this university has been changed for the better in many ways, and the beneficiaries of those changes are the students who have and will represent this institution in Western North Carolina, across the state and around the world. On behalf of Western Carolina University’s students, alumni, faculty, staff and friends, and the citizens of Western North Carolina and the state of North Carolina, we submit to you, Dr. John W. Bardo, our enduring thanks and appreciation for service extraordinarily well done.”

After receiving a standing ovation from the Ramsey Center audience, Bardo noted that some of the freshmen who will arrive at WCU in August were not yet 2 years old when he and his wife, Deborah Bardo, moved to Cullowhee and he assumed the chancellor’s position at WCU.

“Thank you very much,” he said. “None of this would have happened without the great faculty and dedicated staff we have at this university. These are the people who make the difference. To my colleagues on the faculty and staff, thank you so very much for everything you do every day to make this university great.”

Later in the ceremony, during his charge to the graduating students, Bardo spoke about the great societal and economic changes he has seen during his academic career, and he advised the graduating students that they are leaving the university well-prepared to face the changes coming in the future.

“What Western Carolina is about is preparing you for work, but it is also about preparing you for a life of leadership,” he said. “We need you to lead. You have the skills and the education to lead.

“I’m excited to see what will happen in your future,” Bardo said. “All the best to you for a job well done, and congratulations.”

The graduate students who have been completing their degrees at WCU this semester are part of a spring graduating class that totals about 1,250 students.

A complete list of all of WCU’s new graduates will be announced following the posting of grades from final examinations.