Welcome friends, family, faculty and staff, and most importantly to the Class of 2019. As I stand here today to speak to you about the end of our undergraduate careers, I can’t help but feel bitter-sweet. While I am, as most of you probably are, excited to begin the next chapter of my life; I feel a bit of sadness as I think of the goodbyes that have to come with the closing of a chapter.

As I look back to the time that I was deciding on which college I wanted to attend, I distinctly remember a checklist I made for my dream school. A close-knit community, a small campus, a charming town, a strong STEM department, a softball team, and a place that made me feel as if I belonged somewhere. When I chose UVA-Wise, I thought it would fit every criterion I had. What I then didn’t realize was that it would provide me with so much more than just checked boxes: it would also provide me with a home for four years, a forever family, and many unforgettable memories.

When I began my first year here, I, as many of you, did not know if my original ideas and plans would work out in reality. I came in wanting to major in computer science, but when I took the introductory course to the program I found that I was the only female in the room and was one of, if not the least experienced. I remember calling my mom in a panic, and I remember her encouraging me to stick it out if I thought I would enjoy the material. Thanks to my mom, I continued in both the class and the major. As the semester turned into a year and the year turned into another, I found myself falling in love with the major, the department, and the college in general. The department provided an abundance of opportunities, such as special topics classes, internships, clubs, and events that allowed us to grow not only as students, but as people as well. I found that if you were passionate about and enjoyed something, our department would help out in any way it could. Whether it was an internship, a professor’s own book, or a two-hour long conversation, the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science allowed for students to flourish if they wanted.

For the first year or two, I believed that there was something special within my department. It wasn’t until the last two years that I realized this wasn’t exactly the case. Although it was true about my department, I heard stories and saw students that proved that it was the same way with other departments, college wide. I saw a student play softball while majoring in nursing, as the nursing department worked with her through both clinicals and gamedays. I saw a student actively conduct psychology research, which aided him in getting into the graduate program of his dreams. I saw a student, and one of my very dear friends, perform an analysis on Mira Variable Stars and present at conferences all across the United States. These students, many of which are sitting in the crowd here today, showed me that UVA-Wise gave each of us the ability to dig deeper into ourselves and our desires to find exactly what it is that we love and want to do for the rest of our lives.

As I dug deeper into myself during my time here, many of you did as well and it took us in many different directions. While I was exploring the spread of malware throughout computers, another student was teaching first graders how to read, a third was calculating the velocity of the strike of a praying mantis, and a fourth was writing his own songs to perform at his senior showcase. As you can see from these five students I named, we each had a different topic that fascinated us and that we wanted to pursue, and UVA-Wise had a place for each of us to flourish within and call home. While we were here, we were able to take what was given to us and run with it. We were able to dig as deep as we wanted and get wrapped up in topics that captivated us.

As our time here at UVA-Wise closes, Class of 2019, I want you to remember your time here. I want you to remember your experiences and your friends, but most importantly how you discovered yourself, how you were captivated with learning, and how you seized the many opportunities given to you. I want to close my speech with a quote from Terry Orlick, a professor at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada:

The heart of human excellence often begins to beat when you discover a pursuit that absorbs you, frees you, challenges you, or gives you a sense of meaning, joy, or passion.

Class of 2019, please continue to discover yourself, continue to fall in love with your passions, and continue to seize every opportunity you can. It was at UVA-Wise where we learned how to do just this, while still having the time of our lives. So, as we move forward to wherever life takes us and as time marches on, remember these lessons, remember this time, and remember what it was like to be a UVA-Wise Cavalier. Thank you.