UVa-Wise awards 313 degrees at Commencement 2014
Virginia Poet Laureate Sofia M. Starnes urged the 313 graduates of The University of Virginia’s College at Wise to search for beauty, be sensitive to what is right and to remain faithful to their core values as they build their futures.
Starnes, speaking before hundreds of family and friends who gathered in the David J. Prior Convocation Center for the May 10 Commencement exercise, recalled how she never experienced a graduation herself because of unique circumstances related to political unrest in her native Philippines and simply because her college in Spain had no tradition of commencement ceremonies. She had her degree and the promise of opportunities ahead of her, but she did not hear any inspiring words or get photographs for scrapbooks.
“I have never reconciled myself fully to the absence of some ceremony that would have marked that moment in my life,” she said. “So today is doubly special for me, and with your permission, I will make this day also mine.”
Starnes, author of many poetry books, said she decided to offer words that she would have wanted to hear at her own commencement.
“I wish I had been told that my life, that our lives, every one of them, is a poem,” she said. “A magnificent, meaningful poem, gradually emerging. “I wish I had been told that every day I lived was a verse in the making; that every thought I had was a word in a verse, and that every decision I made was the start of a new stanza.”
She reminded the Class of 2014 that they are a poem being written, and she offered four parts of a Robert Frost poem to prove her point.
“A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness,” she quoted Frost. “So these are the things I wish for you on this momentous day. A catch in your throat that is the experience of intense goodness and beauty that will cause you to evaluate everything you do in its light. A sense of wrong that is the awareness of what is right, which will allow you to recognize the world’s ills and urge you to do something about them. A homesickness that is the ability to keep in touch with the person you are, your roots and your core values, no matter what you do or where you go, and finally, a lovesickness that is the need and desire to embrace others, to enlarge your heart and your mind through the hearts and minds of your fellow human beings.”
UVa-Wise Chancellor Donna P. Henry presented each graduate with a copy of “The Nearest Poem Anthology,” Starnes’ latest book. The book, purchased for the students by the Napoleon Hill Foundation, is a collection of favorite poems from people throughout Virginia.
“You have a promising future ahead,” Henry told the graduates. “You have choices to make and much work to do. You have the opportunity and the responsibility to be a leader in your communities, this Commonwealth and our nation.”
Marvin Gilliam Jr., a member of the University’s Board of Visitors, delivered greetings to the Class of 2014 on behalf of University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan. Marcia A. Gilliam, chair of the UVa-Wise College Board, also congratulated the Class of 2014.
Student Government Association President Dakota R. Hill urged his fellow classmates to remember how they feel on Commencement Day when they are faced with trying times.
“Remember the emotion and feeling of all of the support, compassion and will power that has led you to this moment,” Hill said. “Carry this emotion close to you whereever your path may take you and you shall always rise above life’s obstacles.”
Brett Hall, Class of 2014 Honorary Speaker, led his classmates down memory lane regarding their shared experiences over the past four years. Hall said he learned five basic lessons during college, which were to put safety first, be attentive, it’s not what you wear but how you wear it, always cite your sources and to treasure your tomorrows.
The Class of 2014 was inducted into the UVa-Wise Alumni Association by Larry McReynolds, the organization’s president.
PHOTO BY TIM COX