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End of an era as WVU Tech holds final commencement in Montgomery


Charleston Gazette-Mail

MONTGOMERY, W.Va.  — Rob Leibel couldn’t sleep. He woke up at 6 a.m. Saturday, his stomach churning with anxiety. Even a warm breakfast from Tudor’s Biscuit World couldn’t calm him down. A few hours later, he’d deliver a speech to his fellow classmates at West Virginia University Institute of Technology, his last speech as the president of the student body.

A West Virginia University Institute of Technology graduate walks past the mountains of Montgomery after Saturday’s commencement ceremony. (Photo by F. Brian Ferguson)

“I clocked the speech at two minutes and 58 seconds the first time I read through it,” Leibel said. “That’s all we need. We’re a small school, so I gave a small speech.”

The day was a last for Leibel, but also for WVU Tech.

About 150 students were honored at the school’s last graduation ceremony at the Montgomery campus. A crowd of family, friends and alumni packed into the gymnasium Saturday morning to honor the graduates and to say goodbye to the school.

In the coming weeks, school officials will make the move to the campus of the former Mountain State University in Beckley, leaving behind more than 100 years of history in the eastern corner of Kanawha County.

“I started here, and I’m happy I finished here,” Leibel said.

WVU Tech President Carolyn Long urged the graduates to learn to embrace change in life. She remarked how when she went to school, women going to college were relegated to certain career paths like that of a secretary or teacher. Change, she said, is needed to solve most of life’s challenges.

For the last year, Long has gone through much change herself. She is overseeing the colossal task of moving a college in a year, a feat she previously said has never been accomplished on this scale and at this pace.

Students were already taking some classes on the new Beckley campus this spring semester. At the beginning of the fall semester, the move should be complete.

KVC Health Systems, a Kansas-based company, will purchase a large chunk of the Montgomery campus and turn it into a college for children coming out of the foster care system. BridgeValley and the local YMCA are both considering purchasing the remaining buildings.

“This place means a lot to a lot of people and has for quite some time,” Long said during the ceremony. “We’ll miss this place, too, but we’re confident in our future as an institution. This is about our students, like the ones sitting before us today. You are the soul of WVU Tech, and that’s not going anywhere.”

Shawn Ferguson barely remembers his graduation.

He went to West Virginia State University for two years, but then he transferred to WVU Tech and finished an engineering degree in 1999. When he looks back on his graduation, everything seems like a blur, he said.

Ferguson came to this year’s ceremony to watch his nephew graduate.

“I had a lot of great memories,” Ferguson said. “I hate to see a town dying like this For the college to thrive, it’s probably better to be down there in a more central location in West Virginia. But when you’re from this area, you hate to see business leave, and that’s all this is, really.”

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