On a brisk winter day in Cullowhee, Western Carolina University graduates gathered in the Ramsey Regional Activity Center surrounded by faculty, staff, friends and family to celebrate a huge milestone.
WCU held two commencement ceremonies on Saturday, Dec. 17, with more than 1,300 graduates having their degrees conferred for bachelors, masters and doctoral programs.
As guests found their seats, the commencement brass and percussion ensemble serenated the crowd with energizing prelude music before the exciting regal procession that accompanied the platform party and graduates onto the arena floor.
WCU Chancellor Kelli R. Brown presided over both ceremonies and began the program with a moment of silence for the audience to take in the importance of this special day in the lives of the graduates and their families.
Robert C. Roberts, chair of the WCU Board of Trustees, shared his thoughts on the importance of being a lifelong learner and Sonja Phillips Nichols, member from the UNC Board of Governors, offered greetings from the University of North Carolina System Office and President Peter Hans’, all while electrifying the crowd with her dynamic “hallelujahs” in celebration of the graduates and their families.
Graduates Ezri Villiard from Franklin gave the morning address with the message of taking opportunities when they arise, and Atalia Taylor from Monroe gave the afternoon address about succeeding despite your circumstances.
Deans of the colleges, which include the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Business, the Brinson Honors College, the College of Education and Allied Professions, the College of Engineering and Technology, the David Orr Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts, the College of Health and Human Sciences and the Graduate School and Research, presented the commencement candidates to Brown before students were called by name to receive their diploma and walk across the stage.
A commencement ceremony at WCU would not be complete without an appearance from the school’s beloved mascot, Paws, who greeted the graduates after their degrees were presented and a rogue airhorn, let loose by a faculty member on the platform.
After conferring the degrees, Brown gave a charge to the graduates at each ceremony, in which she stated, “Today, we stand behind you, ready to follow, and we stand beside you, ready to serve, as you lead us into the future.”
After students turned their tassels to the left to signify their degree completion, the WCU alma mater began to play to forever connect past, current and future alumni of the mountain school nestled in the Cullowhee valley.