Graduation. A time of celebration, when a student’s academic achievement is recognized and applauded. It’s also a time to recognize the sacrifices and support of family and friends who carried the graduate through the tougher times. Earning a degree isn’t easy. Basking in the moment of ultimate achievement is something that every graduate should enjoy.
I’ve overseen the WVU IMC and DMC programs for nearly 15 years, since 2005. That means that I have had the distinct honor and privilege of recognizing every student that has ever completed the program as they walk across the stage, save the one year my sister’s wedding coincided with graduation weekend. There’s a common misconception about graduation from an online program. You hear assumptions like, “Since it’s online, no one would really bother to come to graduation, right?”
Perhaps surprisingly, many students in our online graduate programs make it a point to come to campus – many for the first time – from across the country to walk across that stage and be recognized for their achievement. Not surprising, though, are the emotions and the camaraderie among our graduates. They may be meeting in person for the first time, but it feels more like a reunion of old friends. The shared experience of earning a master’s degree creates a bond even when the participants don’t sit in the same classroom or walk the same sidewalks.
As they wait for the ceremony to begin, graduates chat about their experiences in the program, often about courses and instructors they found most valuable. But they also discuss their career pursuits and their families. They’ve all shared an academic experience while continuing to live distinctly different lives in different states and in varying stages of their careers.
Each year, I pose a question to the group and I’m always astounded by the response. Many of our students have just earned a degree from a land grant institution on a campus they’ve never visited in a state they never thought they’d visit. It’s a powerful illustration of the impact a quality online program can have on an academic institution.
Here's one of my treasured images from last year’s graduation – snapped quickly after asking the question, “How many of you are visiting West Virginia for the first time?”
As the names of each graduate is called (coincidentally by `06 IMC alumnus and current instructor, Bill Nevin), they approach the stage to be hooded one-by-one. There is such pride in their eyes as they walk up the ramp, hand me their master’s hood and turn to face the audience. This brief moment in particular is one of my favorite parts of working in higher education. It is my personal and professional honor to hood graduates of the programs I oversee – and their genuine smiles as they are recognized are proof that they know they have accomplished something of value, a truly meaningful moment for them.
Graduation recognizes individual accomplishment and group pride. For those of us who spend our careers supporting students through their academic journeys, it’s also a powerful and moving experience. In fact, the day of May Commencement is one of my favorite days each year. It reminds me of the positive aspects of the role I have in the college and the academic experience of my students. It reinforces my passion for the programs and the exceptional people who make up the WVU IMC and DMC community.
I’m glad that the common assumption that online students wouldn’t bother attending graduation isn’t true here at WVU – and that our IMC and DMC graduates from all over the country make the effort to share one final, emotional and triumphant experience together, under the same roof on a campus many just stepped foot on for the first time. May they never forget the feeling of locking arms with their fellow graduates and singing Country Roads on the floor of the WVU Coliseum – all of them forever Mountaineers.
Congratulations to the IMC and DMC Classes of 2019! We are so proud of you.
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