Commencement weekend at Davis & Elkins College is the highlight of the academic year.  The celebration for the Class of 2022 was grand and occurred over two baccalaureate services and two commencement ceremonies May 6-7 in Harper-McNeeley Auditorium in the Myles Center for the Arts.

Members of the class of ’22 bore the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic during their years at D&E.  They were sent home in March of their sophomore year and then endured unprecedented pandemic protocols throughout their junior and senior years.  As I shared with our graduates last weekend, I learned something about this group of students over that time.  I learned of their resilience, and their drive to succeed.  This class was willing to do whatever was required to remain safe and reach their goals.  That is precisely the reason I know, in my heart, they will accomplish great things in their lives and make an impact upon their communities.

There were two moments during the ceremonies that were particularly poignant from my vantage point.  Each of them, in their unique manner, encapsulate the core of the D&E experience.

The first occurred during Baccalaureate when our graduates were hooded.  As each walk onto the stage, the faculty or staff member of the graduate’s choice, chosen because of their significant influence of this particular student, places the academic hood over his or her head.  From my unique vantage point just a few feet away, I can watch the graduate turn and embrace his or her mentor.  Witnessing the embrace, hearing the words of gratitude, and detecting many teary eyes, this moment crystalizes the relationship and bond that has developed.  Over four years, strangers become friends and lives of both students as well as faculty and staff are profoundly affected.

The first day on campus as a freshman at D&E I give a homework assignment.  Each new student is given a blank piece of paper and asked to write a letter to their future self.  Our new students are encouraged to pour out their emotions at this new beginning in their lives.  They are asked to share their hopes and dreams for their time at D&E.  The letters are sealed in envelopes and stored, unopened, in the Registrar’s Office.  At Commencement, when our graduate crosses the stage to have his or her picture taken with the President, I present a letter written to that student four years ago.  Their reactions are generally priceless.  Most have forgotten the exercise, yet as the memory floods back a smile appears.  Later in the day, they can open and read that letter from a younger version of themselves and dramatically recognize the growth and maturation of their D&E years.  Often, I refer to a transformative educational experience at D&E, and this moment makes it is obvious.  It is literally in black and white.

For the Class of 2022, their journey brought them to the mountains of Randolph County.  Their lives, and our lives, will be forever linked due our journeys intersecting.  For that blessing, I am grateful.

It is time for a summer hiatus for this weekly labor of love I call “Reflections of the Journey”.  May we all find time for joy, rest, and rejuvenation over the coming months.

The journey continues….

Chris A. Wood
Davis & Elkins College