May 14, 2015
I love this event. It is part of what is so special about our University — the diverse makeup of our student body with men and women from around the world who will soon be West Virginia University alumni.
You are among some 150 international students graduating this spring. You represent 43 countries, from Argentina to Vietnam.
And while you may come from very different climates and cultures, and you may have grown up speaking different languages, you have one thing in common — before you came here, you probably wondered what the heck is a “Mountaineer?”
And there is a good chance the first sight of our bearded, buckskin-wearing, musket-toting mascot might have left you a bit frightened.
But, I am here to tell you — more than anyone else, you represent the spirit of our state’s original Mountaineers.
They were brave and hardy pioneers who journeyed into a rugged new land. Like you, they had a spirit of adventure and a will to take on challenges.
There is only one difference between today’s international students and West Virginia’s original Mountaineers — those guys did not have to fill out so many forms.
If they were here today, I am sure they would agree that fending off mountain lions and black bears was a breeze compared to scaling the mountain of paperwork modern bureaucracy demands from you.
Aren’t you glad all that paperwork is behind you?
Students, you have worked hard to reach this milestone.
It is never easy to go away to college or start a new graduate or professional program. Most students go through a bit of an adjustment as they deal with homesickness, changing expectations and new terrain.
But each of you did something far harder than the average student. You ventured beyond national boundaries and familiar cultural norms.
You journeyed way outside your comfort zone — something that many people are afraid to do. I have seen you around campus — I have probably even taken a selfie with some of you — and I know how enthusiastic and involved you have been:
- You joined, and formed student organizations
- You learned our traditions like singing the words to “Country Roads”
- You enjoyed student life to the fullest, including concerts, sporting events and working out at the Rec Center
- You excelled academically. It is notable, for example, that two of our eight top bachelor’s degree graduates this year are international students.
Along the way, I am sure you had moments of culture shock and confusion and loneliness.
Beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss wrote a book called Oh, the Places You’ll Go, which is often read at graduation ceremonies.
One portion describes being in a strange and unfamiliar place:
You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin.
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?
You dared to go in.
You gained confidence.
You made friends with people from many backgrounds.
You learned skills that will last a lifetime.
You made West Virginia University your home.
And, just by being here, you made our University a better place.
Having students from other countries helps all our students on campus to experience other cultures and perspectives.
You are West Virginia University’s conduit to the world.
And now, using what you have learned here, you will go out and make the world a better place.
I know you had help throughout your journey. It is wonderful to see so many of your family members and friends in the audience – many of whom traveled thousands of miles over several days to be here for this and other ceremonies throughout the weekend.
These are the people who have supported you, encouraged you and cheered you on.
Students, this is an opportunity to show them your support. Let us give them a hand.
I also want to recognize our wonderful faculty and staff, who have genuinely cared about you and worked to make you feel at home.
Special thanks to those who work in our Student Life international support office.
Many of those folks are here today, along with faculty, staff, and friends who have become close to you.
Like all of us, they are excited to see you succeed and proud to call you part of the Mountaineer family.
You had many choices about where to pursue your education.
I am very glad you chose West Virginia University and the caring, welcoming city of Morgantown.
Morgantown is a wonderful place to study and live, and I want to thank Mayor Jenny Selin for the great job she is doing to make it even better.
In a few minutes, Mayor Selin and I will be making a special presentation to you that will help you remember your home here among the hills.
Wherever life takes you, I hope you carry this place in your heart.
Congratulations, and thank you for making us a part of your journey.
And do not forget to attend the first-ever Mountaineer Send-Off as part of your graduation journey. It is tonight at 7 o’clock at the Coliseum, and we have lots of fun and surprises planned for you.
And you will get to spend more time with me, which is always exciting.
Now, to offer you our community’s good wishes, please welcome Morgantown Mayor Jenny Selin.