From WCU Office of Public Relations
Western Carolina University held commencement exercises Saturday (Dec. 17) to recognize its fall graduating class and a group of new alumni who were awarded degrees after this year’s summer school sessions.
WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher presided over the ceremony at Ramsey Regional Activity Center. The presentation of degree candidates was led by Alison Morrison-Shetlar, WCU provost.
WCU’s fall class includes about 750 students who recently have been working on final academic requirements to receive their degrees. A group of approximately 170 WCU graduates who completed degree requirements during summer school also participated in commencement. A total of about 800 graduating students and alumni donned caps and gowns for the event.
The purple component of WCU’s traditional purple and gold colors was in abundance at the ceremony as undergraduates were wearing purple caps and gowns for the first time, instead of black. Graduate students were still dressed in black caps and gowns.
Brandon Todd Truitt, a native of Waynesville and member of the fall class, delivered the primary commencement address. A communication and political science major, Truitt was chosen for that honor by a campus committee through a speaker selection process that was open to all graduating students.
Truitt, a drum major for WCU’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band who achieved Dean’s List and Chancellor’s List status for his academic work at the university, told the audience that he wanted to speak about how WCU helped him discover himself, his passions and his appreciation for service.
“We have all been given the opportunity to discover new things during our time here,” he said. “Whether it is discovering our beliefs, our passions or ourselves, Western has given us the opportunity to grow.” Truitt said WCU offers students the “comfort and security” to find out who they really are, and that led to his decision to come out as a gay man.
Turning to his experience in WCU classrooms, Truitt told the audience his time as a political science major opened his mind to new things that were never in his realm of possibility – “fascinating, intimate conversations on some of our most fundamental forms of philosophy and government.” WCU provided a good atmosphere to learn and listen, but the state of discourse in general across the nation is one in which “we do not listen to each other anymore,” he said.
“Class of 2016, listen to me when I say there are going to be people in life that are different than you,” Truitt said. “People who think, act, talk and walk differently than you. And that’s totally OK. But we cannot fall victim to a political climate that screams, ‘I’m right and you’re wrong.’ Can we not disagree without demoralizing and ripping each other apart? I challenge all of us to move forward with the same civility we have kept in our classroom discussions.”
Concluding his remarks, Truitt said WCU is “a place where you find out that it’s really not all about you and that we are all just a part of an incredible world that surrounds us.”
“This is the place that has made all of that happen. I charge you to step forward with a sense of passion for discovering new aspects of life,” he said to the graduating students and alumni. “Take the time to take in new cultures, ideas and beliefs just like we did during our time here at WCU. Go fearlessly in your approach to life and always keep close to your heart the place that started it all – Cullowhee.”
Truitt is the son of Dayna Gerlach of Indian Trail and Thomas Truitt of Waynesville. He has plans to work toward becoming a television news reporter and hopes to eventually cover the nation’s top stories for a major TV network.
Also during WCU’s commencement, recognition was given to all those wearing caps and gowns who are active duty members of the military, veterans, or members of the National Guard and Reserves. Those students were distinguished by red, white and blue honor cords.
WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher delivered the charge to the fall semester degree candidates and summer graduates. In his charge, Belcher said that regardless of whether they have their futures mapped out, or they are uncertain what is coming next, they have the minds and skills to chart their own courses in life.
“As you look toward your future, I charge you to hold tight to your grounding at Western Carolina University and the values for which it stands, to remain firm in your commitment to excellence and high standards, and to reject mediocrity and the ill-fated attitude of ‘good enough,’” he said.
It’s time for the new graduates to take the lead in making their communities a better place, Belcher said. “As you pursue your careers and making money – as you do well – remember to do good, as well. You are a part of Western Carolina University, and Western Carolina University is a part of you,” he said. “I charge each of you, as you pursue your individual path, to come back home to reground yourself on a regular basis in this remarkable slice of heaven we call Cullowhee.”
A complete list of WCU’s new graduates will be announced following the posting of grades from final examinations.