Graduates prepare for next chapter
ELKINS — Saturday was a time of celebration at Davis & Elkins College, as members of the graduating class of 2017 proudly walked — and even danced — across the stage to receive their diplomas.
The 108th annual Commencement Ceremony took place in the Harper-McNeeley Auditorium, featuring a range of honors, advice and congratulations to all students who earned a degree.
“It is celebration time at Davis & Elkins College,” said D&E President Chris A. Wood during opening remarks. “We come together with an awful lot of pride for our graduates.”
Wood noted graduation is not possible without hard work; late nights of studying; and support from faculty, staff, family and friends.
He told graduates that they literally have their lives before them, and they now can join the ranks of the college’s talented alumni who live all over the world.
“They’re out there making a difference in the lives of people, and making our world just a bit brighter,” Wood said, encouraging the 2017 graduating class to follow in their footsteps.
One of the graduates Saturday was Will Roboski, of Elkins, who literally danced across the stage to receive his degree, showcasing a type of flatfooting dance that prompted applause. Roboski studied American vernacular dance and is a member of the college’s Appalachian Ensemble, a 15-member student group that presents traditional music and dancing.
He earned highest honors of those completing a Bachelor of Arts degree, and said he plans to direct the Appalachian Ensemble next year, teach dance classes and continue to perform.
“It was a very beautiful, conclusive experience, and I appreciate all the speakers,” he said after receiving his diploma, noting how much wisdom the speakers shared with the graduates.
Saturday’s commencement speaker was Dr. John Ochsendorf, an Elkins native who now serves as a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and director of the American Academy in Rome. Ochsendorf received an honorary Doctor of Science degree Saturday from D&E College, prior to his speech. He joked that it was the easier degree he ever received, and he shared memories of his childhood in Elkins.
Ochsendorf even admitted to sneaking into the historic Halliehurst and Graceland mansions on the college campus before they were restored, and he shared how those experiences led to his love of architecture and building restoration.
“That curiosity and thirst were really born here on campus,” he said, urging the new graduates to continue learning and discovering new interests.
Ochsendorf said a key to his success has been seeking knowledge from others.
“I found people I admired, and I learned from them,” he said. “Sit at the feet of a master, whoever they are. … Move outside your comfort zone.”
Another speaker Saturday was June B. Myles, chairperson of the college’s Board of Trustees, who congratulated the graduates and said she hopes they have developed a love of learning as well as meaningful, lasting relationships at D&E College.
“We hope you have a special place in your heart for D&E, and we hope you return often to visit,” Myles said.
The 2017 valedictorian is Colton Alexander Lynn Allen, who shared some of his college experiences and shared three lessons he has learned: hard work pays off; make the most out of wherever you are; and find what you’re passionate about and share that passion with someone else.
“The next chapter you write will be just as special as the one you wrote here,” Allen told his fellow graduates.
The class salutatorian is Brandon Terry Sellers, who shared his personal journey, including the struggle of losing his parents and other deeply difficult periods of his life.
“Life is beautiful, but it can knock you down. It can put you flat on your back. … But you have to get back up and make a difference in the world,” Sellers said.