Caleb Sullivan of Sylva

Caleb Sullivan of Sylva, a communication major at WCU, marches out of the Ramsey Center during the Saturday morning undergraduate ceremony.

Recognition for four graduating students with perfect GPAs, presentation of an award to one of the University of North Carolina System’s premier teachers and the inspiring success stories of two other graduating students were among the highlights Friday and Saturday (May 10-11) as WCU held a trio of commencement exercises.

Commencement for WCU’s Graduate School was held Friday night. Saturday included a morning ceremony for the College of Arts and Sciences, College of Education and Allied Professions, and Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts, followed by an afternoon commencement for the colleges of Business, Health and Human Sciences, and Engineering and Technology. All three ceremonies were presided over by WCU Interim Chancellor Alison Morrison-Shetlar, with Acting Provost Carol Burton presenting candidates for degrees.

WCU’s spring class, including recipients of both undergraduate and graduate degrees, is expected to total more than 1,650 graduates, would be the largest class in university history and WCU’s eighth-straight record spring class.

The Saturday morning undergraduate commencement included the presentation of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching to John Whitmire, WCU associate professor of philosophy, who was recently announced as one of 17 recipients of that honor across the UNC System.

Whitmire told the graduating students that “commencement is not just about looking backward at who we have been. It’s primarily, as the very word suggests, about moving forward – commencing, starting a new journey, a new quest.”

Whitmire received his award from Board of Governors member Carolyn Coward, who also delivered greetings and congratulations to the graduating students at all three commencements on behalf of the board, UNC System Interim President Bill Roper and the staff in the system office. Pat Kaemmerling, chair of the WCU Board of Trustees, provided greetings on behalf of the trustees at the three ceremonies.

Antonio Oakley of Charlotte, a member of the spring class receiving his bachelor’s degree in computer information systems, was the primary speaker for the Saturday afternoon undergraduate commencement.

Oakley said he was in awe when he arrived on campus to start classes. “There was nothing around that looked familiar to me,” he said. “Now, I know Charlotte is not the biggest city, but Cullowhee was totally new. I had never seen so much open space or bugs this big. I was in this new place that was completely out of my comfort zone with this newfound freedom and responsibility that I had no idea how to handle.”

All three commencements included remarks by Ed Holland, president of the WCU Alumni Association, and special recognition for members of the graduating class who are active duty members of the military, veterans or members of the National Guard and Reserves.

Morrison-Shetlar delivered the charge to the graduating students at the three ceremonies. She congratulated them on doing the hard work it took to earn their degrees and said it is now up to them to create the world in which they wish to live.

“Graduates, each of you have worked diligently, passionately and tirelessly, earning the distinct privilege to be seated before us today,” Morrison-Shetlar said. “You have believed in your dreams. You have set sights on your goals. You have completed all the difficult and necessary tasks to reach this day, a day that represents one of the most significant milestones in your lifetime – a milestone that makes possible a future of unlimited possibilities.

“Graduates, once upon a time, we stood before you to lead the way. Today, we stand behind you, ready to follow, and we stand beside you, ready to serve as you lead us into the future.”

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