THE INTER-MOUNTAIN - More than 100 Davis & Elkins College students, surrounded by family and friends, celebrated Saturday as they prepared to take the next step in molding their futures.
The 109th annual Commencement Ceremony took place in the Harper-McNeeley Auditorium on the campus of D&E College, featuring a range of honors, advice and congratulations to all students who earned a degree.
“For our graduating seniors, today is the time when all the hard work, hopes and dreams come to fruition. As I have the privilege of shaking the hand of our deserving graduates as they receive their diplomas, each piece of parchment symbolizes so much more than the completion of a course of study,” said D&E President Chris Wood. “For each of our students, the diploma represents the acknowledgment of an accomplishment as well as the opportunity to pursue dreams — all of which is made possible by the love and support of family and a dedicated faculty.”
Wood added the journey to graduation could not have been completed without the unwavering support from parents, family and friends.
“For the families of our graduates, the diploma represents an accomplishment for you as well. Parents and other family members have sacrificed so that their son or daughter could experience the transformative education D&E offers. In return, they receive an overflowing sense of pride in both the accomplishment and the opportunity for the future embodied in their graduate,” he said. “All the sacrifice is worth it when the young man or young woman, whom they love so much, walks across this stage, beaming with joy and brimming with yet-to-be realized life opportunities.”
Affectionately known by many as “Rev. Kev,” Kevin Starcher, who served as D&E Benfield-Vick chaplain from 2012 to 2017, addressed students during the commencement ceremony, reiterating that family support is a crucial aspect of the future of each graduate.
“The only thing I have found that matters is the concept of love. The Christian church says that God is love, and right now, graduates, you are surrounded by friends and family members and staff who have invested in your lives,” he said. “Today they stand up, celebrate and show their love. … Friends, love your families. Love this beautiful world in which you live.”
Starcher added he believes there are five ethics of love — loving your family, loving the world, loving your enemy, loving the peacemaker and loving yourself.
“Be yourself. This world would not be unique without you,” he said.
Following commencement remarks by Starcher, Wood presented Dr. June B. Myles, who has served as chairperson of the D&E Board of Trustees for the past five years and will be stepping down from that position this year, with an honorary plaque for an investment she made to the school that allowed for the creation of the “gateway” to D&E College next to the Iron Horse statue.
“I cannot thank her enough for what she has done for Davis & Elkins College,” Wood said, adding that through her generosity, the college was able to raze a building and create a greenspace. “It’s a wonderful entrance to the school.”
After the presentation, Myles also congratulated students on their accomplishments.
“We hope you hold a special place in your heart for D&E and often visit,” she said. “You will always be welcome. Hurray, hurray, it’s graduation day!”
Two top honors also were awarded at the commencement ceremony for valedictorian and salutatorian — the highest and second-highest grade point averages, respectively, of the graduating class.
Salutatorian Emily Annette Coffman, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in religion and philosophy and political science, cited her favorite comedy.
“I would like to look to my favorite movie for some inspiration for all of us in our final time together. In the 2001 film ‘Joe Dirt,’ the titular character has the worst luck humanly possible. Joe faces adversity in everything he does. However, every time something goes wrong, he responds with the phrase, ‘You gotta keep on keeping on. Life’s a garden, man. Dig it and make it work for you,'” she said. “Graduation is an axial moment in our lives in which everything that happens will be from now on. We will move from the safe embrace of D&E into a world that will not always be kind to us. In order to navigate this difficult world, we can look to the advice of Joe Dirt for some important tips on how to handle gardens that are simply not working for us.”
She continued, “Our lives are like gardens; we will plant many things; we will plant hopes, dreams and all of our aspirations for the future. Some of these things will grow; some will require us to work a little extra hard in order for them to flourish; and some will simply not come to fruition. While we can attempt to control what is in our gardens, sometimes they will become overgrown with weeds and other pests.
“When we leave D&E we will go on to our careers, graduate schools and endless other opportunities, and not all of those endeavors are going to work out as we want them to. We will have planted something that simply does not work for us. That does not mean that we abandon the gardens that are our lives. That means that we keep on keeping on. So, we can think of life as a garden. It is the space in which we will plant ourselves and hope that what grows is something beautiful — and be prepared for if it is not.”
Coffman then explained how she feels the second part of the quotation, “Dig it and make it work for you,” affected her during her college career and how she believes it could benefit graduates moving forward.
“If you have planted something in your garden that is not flourishing, something that is not working for you, dig it up and find something that makes it work for you. In order to have the perfect garden, you have to work for it. In the end, your garden is a reflection of whatever time and effort you have put into it. In tending our gardens we have to decide whether we want them to be filled with gorgeous perennials, lovely orange poppies and beautiful lilies, or if we will allow them to be overrun with weeds. Our lives are what we will put into them. Rather than waiting for something to crop up, actively work to make your life into the one you want to live.”
Meaghan Elaine Eyler, 2018 D&E valedictorian and recipient of the Freeman J. Daniels Academic Achievement Award, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and said the small-town D&E experience made her feel at home.
“Throughout our time here at D&E, we have grown up, made friendships that have the potential to stand the test of time, and become part of a community that feels like home in these West Virginia hills,” she said. “I made my decision to come to D&E as a junior in high school. From the second you step onto our campus, you feel like you belong. Our little community is a family and it is evident to our visitors. People wave; they stop to talk to newcomers who need directions. They ask you how you’re doing. And when you enroll here and you start going to classes, you find out that it goes even further than these small greetings. Your professors know your name, they want to know how you’re doing, what interests you. Students support each other and help each other succeed in any way they can. Today’s graduates and I became part of this family by battling adversity, overcoming loss, encouraging one another, and most importantly by making memories we will not soon forget.”
She added the bonds she has created during her time at D&E will impact her for the rest of her life.
“The class of 2018 has not only become a part of the D&E family, they have left an impact through their achievements, service and experiences and I am proud to be a part of this family. It is because of the friends I have made here that I not only enjoyed my four years here, but was able to succeed,” Eyler said. “They loved me, supported me, and pushed me to be my best even when I didn’t want to be. They made me laugh every day, at them and at myself, and they helped me be confident in who I am inside and out.
“Our time at D&E too quickly has come to a close, but these have truly been some of the best years of our lives. The time has come now to say not goodbye, but ‘See you later,’ to the friends that we have made here. Keep in touch,” she continued. “Keep these connections strong.”
The D&E Concert Choir, led by Elizabeth “Liz” Marshall-MacVean, performed “Beautiful Day” by U2 as part of the graduation celebration.