Graduating students get big send-off as WCU holds trio of commencement ceremonies

A graduating student gets a hug from a faculty member during one of WCU's commencements. Smiling faces were in abundance as the university held ceremonies to recognize members of the spring class.

A graduating student gets a hug from a faculty member during a WCU commencement. Smiling faces were in abundance as the university held  three ceremonies to recognize members of the spring class.

Commencement Photos

Western Carolina University held a trio of commencement ceremonies over a two-day period – Friday, May 8, and Saturday, May 9 – to honor what is expected to be the university’s fourth-straight record spring graduating class.

Activities at Ramsey Regional Activity Center included special recognition for undergraduate students recording perfect 4.0 GPAs for their college careers and an address by one of the University of North Carolina system’s top teachers.

A total of about 1,300 graduating students donned caps and gowns for the three events. They are part of a spring graduating class that is expected to number almost 1,450 graduates, about 100 more graduates than were in last year’s record spring class. The exact size of WCU’s spring class won’t be known until all academic records are finalized.

The university’s graduating classes have been boosted by surging enrollments in recent years, and the size of the spring class has doubled since 2004.

Commencement for graduate students was held Friday night. Saturday included a morning ceremony for undergraduate students from the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Education and Allied Professions, and Fine and Performing Arts, and an afternoon commencement for undergraduates from the College of Business, College of Health and Human Sciences, and Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology. WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher presided over all three events.

Two University Scholars – students who completed all their undergraduate studies at WCU with perfect 4.0 grade-point averages – were honored during the Saturday morning ceremony. They are Benjamin J. Mix, a psychology major from Conyers, Georgia, and Kaitlyn Elizabeth Otey, an elementary education major from Thomasville.

The primary address during the Friday night Graduate School commencement was delivered by Alexander Macaulay. The WCU associate professor of history recently was named a recipient of the UNC system’s highest teaching honor, the Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Macaulay spoke to the graduating students about the value of community and importance of having a sense of belonging. “There is a reason we have ceremonies like this in a place this size,” he said. “It is to recognize your accomplishment, but also to recognize the community of people who helped get you here. Saying you did not get here alone in no way diminishes what you have done. It should actually comfort you and inspire you to continue on, knowing you have people on which you can rely for all manner of support, guidance and inspiration.”

Macaulay said the nicest aspect of winning the Board of Governors Award is the number of people he has heard from offering congratulations, including relatives, present and former students, people from his hometown, high school classmates, friends from college and people he comes in contact with on campus and in the local area. “This has reminded me how fortunate I am to have lived, worked and played, and continue to live, work and play, in communities where I am surrounded by hard-working, talented, generous and compassionate individuals who care about one another and the many other people who live in this county, this state, this nation, and this world,” he said.

“Like you soon-to-be graduates, I have also had the benefit of working with teachers here at Western Carolina who are committed to and very good at what they do. They encourage, motivate and challenge me to do my best and meet the standards they set.”

Macaulay told the graduating students their moral and civic obligation is to find ways to extend that feeling of belonging. “Communities derive strength, innovation, power and vibrancy from the number of diverse people who find in themselves and cultivate in others a sense of belonging,” he said. “This increases the potential of what we as individuals and we as a society can create and accomplish.”

The Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching is given annually to a faculty member on each UNC campus to recognize superior teaching. Macaulay was presented his award during the Saturday morning undergraduate commencement by Board of Governors member Roger Aiken of Alexander. Aiken also delivered greetings and congratulations to the graduating students at the three ceremonies on behalf of the Board of Governors and the UNC Office of the President.

All three events included special recognition of members of the graduating class who are active duty members of the military, veterans, or members of the National Guard and Reserves. Those students were distinguished by red, white and blue honor cords they wore with their caps and gowns.

Also receiving special recognition was WCU Board of Trustees member Teresa Williams, who will be ending her eight-year tenure on the board at the end of June. Williams has been chair of the trustees for the past two years.

A graduating student acknowledges family and friends during a WCU commencement.

A graduating student acknowledges family and friends during one of WCU’s commencements.

“She has been an incredible advocate for Western Carolina University,” Belcher said. “She lives in Huntersville, and sometimes I think she spends more time in Cullowhee than in the greater-Charlotte area. We could not have asked for a better leader than Mrs. Teresa Williams.”

Belcher delivered the chancellor’s charge at the three ceremonies. He told the graduating students that regardless of whether they have their futures mapped out or they are uncertain what is coming next, they have the minds and skills to chart their own courses in life.

“As you look toward your future, I charge you to hold tight to your grounding at Western Carolina University and the values for which it stands, to remain firm in your commitment to excellence and high standards, to reject mediocrity and the ill-fated attitude of ‘good enough,’ and to continue learning, whether in formal settings or on your own,” he said. “As you pursue your careers and making money – as you do well – remember to do good, as well.”

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