By DAVE LAVENDER
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Having coached his son, Cory, through the many levels of youth and travel baseball, Armando Garrastazu knows there’s no better sight than his son rounding the bases and stepping onto home plate.
On Saturday, Garrastazu and his wife, Mary, came up from Miami, Florida, to watch Cory score a big one for the family team, as the Marshall baseball player was one of the nearly 1,200 students to receive their degrees at Marshall University’s 2017 Winter Commencement ceremony at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington.
“As a father I have had the privilege to coach him throughout his baseball career, so now getting to see him come to this level where he is graduating from college, I am in awe,” Garrastazu said of his son, who got a degree in sports management with a minor in marketing. “It is an amazing accomplishment.”
Martha Thaxton, too, is especially proud of her daughter, Lacie, who happens to be the first person in their family to graduate from college.
Lacie, who took six years because of switching majors, not only has a job in Teays Valley, West Virginia, with Ghareeb Dental Group, but the health science major with a minor in management is also hoping to attend graduate school in the fall.
She has also been a big inspiration for her family. Her mom, Martha, graduates in May with a degree in social work, while her brother, Jasen, will attend the University of Memphis in January.
“This family will have its first three to graduate,” Martha said. “She graduates today, I graduate next spring and then my son will start college in January, and he will be the third one to graduate, so it will be a family row of graduations.”
Ali Awais, who came up from Florida to get an MBA, is headed back home to the Sunshine State to work in the banking industry, having gained his degree from Marshall.
Awais said his professors and friends have given him a love for Marshall that made him feel like this, too, is home.
“It has been a two-year journey, and I have been away from home for two years, but I feel like Marshall is a family and so it doesn’t feel like I have been away from home that much,” Awais said before the ceremony.
Once inside the arena, that sense of pride was evident on the faces of family members and friends who packed the seats to watch the graduates stroll in, many whose caps were festooned and marked with funny sayings such as, “Excuses Won’t Direct Deposit,” “I Finally Got the D,” “OD to Be” (complete with a cap-sized eye chart) and “LOL-BYE.”
After chief marshal professor Dan Hollis led the faculty onto the stage, music major Christa Navy – who leaves Marshall with two degrees – put her college studies to work, singing the national anthem, accompanied by the John Marshall Fife and Drum Corps directed by Wendell Dobbs.
After opening remarks by President Jerome Gilbert, David Haden of the Marshall University Board of Governors congratulated the students on completing this important mission in their lives.
“No matter what your career goals are, you are on the way to obtaining them and this is one of your first steps,” Haden said. “I know that getting to this point in your lives has not been easy and likely has been difficult for some of you. And at times you may have considered giving up, but I am proud to say you hung in there and each of the 16 members of the board of governors is proud of you.”
Few folks are as proud as their professors, who daily motivate and challenge students to stay on task.
“As your instructors, professors and mentors, we have been your biggest sources of frustration but also your shoulder to cry on, your direction forward and your cheerleaders,” said Paige Muellerleile, chair of the faculty senate. “Today we are so proud of where you are and where you have come from.”
Knighted to give the Winter Commencement speech was last spring’s recipient of the Reynolds Outstanding Teaching Award, Kelli Prejean, an associate professor of history at Marshall University as well as coordinator of the composition program in the English department.
Prejean, a Louisiana native who has been teaching at Marshall since 2005, follows in the Winter Commencement tradition of having the university’s most recent top award-winning professor deliver the address. Past speakers have been Montserrat Miller, a professor of history, Simon Perry, professor of political science, Bonita Lawrence, professor of mathematics, Jamie Warner, professor of political science, Dan Hollis, associate professor of journalism and mass communications, Kateryna Schray, an English professor, Judith Silver, emeritus professor of mathematics, Andrew Nichols, a professor of engineering, and Dr. Greta Rensenbrink, an associate professor of history.
After apologizing for her mom finding out about her speaking via Facebook and now watching her speak over Livestream, Prejean built an inspirational message around the viral hashtag #SquadGoals, telling how people she met along her various levels of her academic journey molded and challenged her to be a better student and better person.
“Michelle and Darcy are only two of many examples of amazing people I have been so lucky to know during my educational journey, and I am telling you about them hoping that you can also sit here and think about the journey and the people along the way who have helped you get here,” Prejean said. “I hope you can look back at your time at Marshall and remember those who offered a helping hand, those who served as inspirations for you and those who shook your foundation a little. I hope you can look back at your own squad, whether that be your family members, your lifelong friends or friends who were once strangers, and see people who pushed you to be better than the person you were when you began this journey.
“When you set out today, continue to seek out people around you who are smarter, more outgoing, louder and braver. Surround yourself with people whose difference intimidates you, people who demand more from you and who stretch your boundaries. Surround yourself with those who create paths for others and not those who keep opportunities to themselves.”
Prejean also challenged graduates – and those in the audience – to look outside themselves and to become active in whatever community they choose to live in, noting how things are truly best when everyone works together.
“Now more than ever we need to see ourselves as members of a larger community. As we look around us at the growth of Marshall and the city of Huntington, it becomes clearer and clearer that growth is only possible when people pull together, when we join our collective imaginations, when we combine our strengths and weaknesses and when we decide that doing for others in the end will be the most enriching thing we can do for ourselves,” Prejean said. “Be a leader, but also be willing to follow when you see good leadership happening. Invest yourself in others, and surround yourselves with people who are unwilling to accept the status quo. Accept and make change. Be fierce. Be brave. Be generous.”
Graduation by the numbers
Here’s a look at Marshall University’s 2017 Winter Commencement by the numbers:
WITH HONORS: Registrar Dr. Sonja Cantrell said 214 students graduated with honors. Thirty-eight graduated summa cum laude (3.85 to 4.0 GPA), 60, magna cum laude (3.6 to 3.84 GPA) and 101, cum laude (3.3 to 3.59 GPA). Four students receiving an associate degree graduated with high honors, and 11 associate degree recipients graduated with honors.
PERFCT GPAs: Based on tentative grade point averages, eight students completed their baccalaureate degrees with perfect 4.0 GPAs. They are:
Jared Todd Casto from Ripley, West Virginia, B.A. in online journalism;
Sabrina Marie Henderson from Ironton, Ohio, B.S. in dietetics;
Anthony Luis Jaime from Huntington, B.A. in criminal justice;
Carrie McMellon from Huntington, B.A. in psychology;
Kiersten Brooke Potter from Charleston, B.A. in secondary education and B.S. in applied mathematics;
Hannah Christine Saxton from South Point, Ohio, B.F.A. in visual art;
Breann ShangPing Spencer from St. Albans, West Virginia, B.S. in environmental science;
Lauren Olivia Whisman from Ona, Regents Bachelor of Arts.
GET THE DOWNLOAD: As a way of recognizing the achievement by the graduates, a downloadable copy of the commencement ceremony is available, free of charge, courtesy of the MUAA. Graduates can relive this milestone by visiting www.herdalum.comto download a free copy of the commencement ceremony.
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