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Let joy ring out

Let the joy ring out! If there was one word to describe the atmosphere in Harper-McNeeley Auditorium on May 11 during the 110th Commencement Ceremonies of Davis & Elkins College, it would be “joy.” Joy was obvious on the faces and in the hearts of graduates, families, trustees, faculty, staff and all in attendance.

The night before Commencement, graduates and their families packed the auditorium to participate in the Baccalaureate Service. Following an engaging and prophetic sermon by the Rev. Michael Kirby of Northminster Presbyterian Church in Evanston, Illinois, my favorite moment of the year occurred. Each of our graduates chose a member of our faculty or staff who had been a mentor to them, and that lucky individual placed an academic hood upon our graduate. Without fail, the graduate then turned and embraced his or her mentor. There were tears, hugs, pats on the back, smiles and laughter that served as the tangible sign of the impact and deep bonds that form between the students, faculty and staff. The quintessential moment that defines a Davis & Elkins College education is evident in that embrace. The transformation of the whole person — body, mind and spirit — is on full display in the deep relationships sealed with an embrace.

The following morning our graduates were back in their academic regalia and ready to cross the stage one more time to receive their diplomas and begin the next chapter of their promising lives. The distinct sound of D&E’s bagpipe band, the West Virginia Highlanders, led our graduates in procession to the auditorium and the celebration was underway. For me, as president, commencement is a time of great pride and gratitude for an institution that lives out its mission “… to prepare and inspire students for success and for thoughtful engagement in the world.”

Both our valedictorian Nick Altman and our salutatorian Kendyl Taylor spoke eloquently and from the heart. Kendyl, an Elkins native, concluded her remarks with these words: “I must highlight the word that has stayed consistent in my time here at Davis & Elkins College, joy. There is an infinite well of joy overflowing on this campus … The special joy you will be leaving with includes the incredible friendships you have made that will last a lifetime … the relationships between you and your gifted professors and all the other elements that have made this journey unique and unforgettable … My challenge to you is to keep that joy with you and spread it wherever you go. Stay joyful knowing that the experience you have had here may be closing, but that you will always have the joy of D&E in your heart.”

How grateful I am for my journey with the class of 2019. They have been a personal source of joy … and hope for a promising future for our community and nation.

As my third year as president of Davis & Elkins College concludes, it is time for a brief hiatus for this weekly labor of love that I call “Reflecting Along the Journey.” I plan to resume this communication with the joyous arrival of the next class of D&E Senators in August. May we all find time over the summer for rest, relaxation and gratitude that the journey continues…