CULLOWHEE -- Western Carolina University Chancellor John W. Bardo conferred degrees on some 390 students at Western's fall commencement exercises on Saturday, Dec. 16.
Before the graduates received their degrees, commencement speaker Lisa Marie Angell, a WCU junior majoring in health information management, addressed the graduates and their families on the subject of "What Really Matters."
Angell won the honor of delivering the primary address at fall commencement by virtue of her winning essay in a contest sponsored by Western's Honors College.
Angell told the graduates she has come to understand, during her time at Western, that it is the nurturing relationships with family and friends that really make the difference in the long run.
"What really matters is all in this room," she said to the graduates in WCU's Ramsey Regional Activity Center. "Look around. The love, support, friendship and memories can be taken with you -- not in a book or box, but inside your heart."
Angell said she was full of doubts when she first set foot on Western's campus.
"I came here from Connecticut without knowing the area, who I was, where I was going, or what I was going to become," she said. "It was terrifying for those first few months. I was not sure I would stay. I can recall lying on my bed and trying to count the days until Thanksgiving break, feeling as though I had made a terrible mistake, picturing myself being alone, living off vending machine food, never getting to know anyone, or making sense of the country accent my roommate possessed. I would be the Yankee outcast.
"But, three years later, I am still here, and now I know that leaving here next year will be even harder than coming here," Angell said.
"While I love my classes and get a lot out of the academic experience, it is not why I am still here. I am here, as I assume you are, because of the people I met -- the people who took me in and never gave up on me: my professors, my advisers, and most importantly, the surrogate family my friends have become. These are the people that really matter in the college experience," Angell said.
"That is the thing about Western Carolina University," she said. "There are so many people who provide so much support, who care so deeply and generate for us so many memories built around such a small campus tucked in the mountains of North Carolina."
Angell said she also has learned that "sometimes your spirit really gets tested," such as when she called her mother in tears, feeling sure that she was going to fail a chemistry class.
"Eventually, I did pass chemistry. Those of you sitting here have risen above such obstacles. That is what really matters -- that you keep on trying and never lose faith in yourself. Nothing is considered failure until you quit trying," Angell said.
Angell recited for the graduates a quote from Helen Keller: "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing."
"Keep the adventure in your life," Angell said. "As you move out into the world, love yourself, respect yourself and make sure you keep having fun. Aim for the stars, move full speed ahead, take the knowledge and life lessons you have gathered at Western and go out and make yourself smile."
A native of Connecticut, Angell has been enrolled in the Honors College since her first semester at WCU. She is the daughter of John and Margaret Angell of Avon, Conn.