Members of Western Carolina University’s fall graduating class who already have done what it takes to earn degrees have some advice for younger students who are still looking to begin their college careers.
“Try to balance having fun and school work, and make sure you do the work first,” said Leslie Barnes, who was minutes away from lining up with other graduating students to march into Ramsey Regional Activity Center for the start of WCU’s fall commencement Saturday (Dec. 12).
“Time management will save you. It’s very important,” said Barnes, an undergraduate fine arts major from Clayton who plans on working for a while and then pursuing her master’s degree in fine arts.
Balancing school work and leisure time as critical to college success was a theme echoed by other graduating students, including Ryan Scarlett, an undergraduate anthropology major from Mebane. “You have to be able to delegate your time,” he said. “Nobody can tell you how much you need to study. You have to decide for yourself.”
Scarlett also recommends students pursue grants and scholarships as much as possible to help them deal with the financial requirements of college.
Family members and friends of the graduating students gathered at the Ramsey Center to help them celebrate their accomplishments. WCU’s fall class includes about 800 students who recently have been completing academic requirements to receive their degrees, and many of them took part in commencement. Another group of graduates who completed degree requirements during summer school and who already have been conferred degrees also joined in the ceremony.
Commencement activities included an address by graduating student Julian Daron Jones, a Richmond, Virginia, native who was chosen to deliver the primary commencement speech through a selection process open to all members of the graduating class.
On campus, Jones is a member of the Honors College and serves on the student board of directors for that program for high-achieving students. A chancellor’s list student, he has been honored with the Lily Community Engagement Award for his community service work. With a major in business administration and law, and finance, Jones plan to pursue to master’s degree in business administration and hopes to eventually work in the area of public policy.
Those are the current details of his accomplishments at WCU, but in his speech, Jones told the graduating students and new WCU alumni that he barely graduated from high school and he dropped out of college twice before coming to WCU. At that time, “I could only envision what it would be like to one day hear my name called and walk across the stage to receive my bachelor’s degree,” he said. “It was so far-fetched that I could not quite wrap my brain around it. Today, I am overwhelmed with joy and passion and a desire to help the next generation of students succeed.
“When I first arrived at Western, I was hesitant to call it ‘home,’” Jones said. “However, the more I interacted with the faculty, I began to love it. I am a city boy. I had no hopes of going to rural North Carolina, but I made it, and I am glad I made it. Western Carolina was the best fit for me, as it was for many of us.
“We have all worked very hard to get where we are today,” Jones said. “And today proves something: that we can accomplish anything that we desire in our hearts to achieve. There are no limitations other than those we place on ourselves. All of us have had our trials, but if and when we remain steadfast, we experience triumph. No person, place, thing or idea can hinder us. We are unstoppable.”
Also during WCU’s commencement, recognition was given to all those wearing caps and gowns 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.
WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher presided over commencement and delivered the charge to the fall semester degree candidates and summer graduates. In his charge, Belcher told the graduating students and new alumni 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, and to continue learning, whether in formal settings or on your own,” Belcher said.
The chancellor urged those in caps and gowns to support their alma mater in all the ways they can, including advocating for the university in their interactions with the state’s elected leaders and supporting the university financially. The chancellor also asked alumni to support their university and vote in the next state primary on March 15, which includes a bipartisan state bond package. That bond package includes $110 million for replacement of WCU’s Natural Sciences Building, which was built in the 1970s.
It’s time for the new graduates to take the lead in making their communities a better place, he said. “As you pursue your careers and making money – as you do well – remember to do good, as well. You are a part of Western Carolina University, and Western Carolina University is a part of you,” Belcher said. “Remember your grounding here in this remarkable slice of heaven we call Cullowhee.”
A complete list of WCU’s new graduates will be announced following the posting of grades from final examinations.