BUCKHANNON — The commencement speaker at West Virginia Wesleyan College recalled his overwhelming sense of accomplishment and relief mixed with trepidation for the future when he once sat where the Class of 2017 was sitting Saturday.
Ambassador Courtenay Rattray, who now serves as Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the United Nations, said he knew that Wesleyan had prepared him to continue his journey, one that eventually led to his current role.
Rattray’s journey to Buckhannon almost didn’t happen.
“My good friend, Christopher Dehring, Wesleyan Class of 1985, had been recruited on a soccer scholarship the year before I enrolled and was determined to convince my parents to permit me to join him,” he said, “notwithstanding my zero chance of meriting a soccer scholarship.”
“Chris is currently one of the most dynamic businessmen in Jamaica today and even back then his flair for marketing was evident,” he said. “He put on a full blown presentation, highlighted the advantages of a Wesleyan education and by the time he was finished, the deal had been sealed. My parents drank the Kool Aid and decided to part company with a significant amount of foreign exchange.”
Rattray said he was a poor to middling student and the only son in a family of overachievers in Jamaica, but his move to the hills of West Virginia gave him a new start.
“Once here, Wesleyan opened a whole new world for me, one which helped to rid me of my insecurities. I flourished in that environment, structured to ensure that the road to achieving my goals was lined with faculty members and college administrators devoted to one thing and one thing only — my ultimate success,” Rattray said.
“Never before had I experienced a support system so dedicated to my personal and scholastic achievement, outside of my family that is.”
Rattray said the liberal arts education that he received at WVWC helped prepare him to succeed in life and will help the Class of 2017 as well.
“In your case and mine the enriched understanding gained at West Virginia Wesleyan results from a liberal arts tradition that has by design not focused exclusively on the provision of specialized job skills,” he said. “There is no doubt that the liberal arts education you have received has equipped you to better interpret the technological age we live in and to comprehend its sophistication.
“It has done so by sharpening your overall mental acuity, your powers of ingenuity and intellectual curiosity and your capacity for critical thinking. It has increased your ability to assess information and process complex issues while providing you with a broad-based humanistic outlook that is essential to understanding our increasingly globalized world.
“In my own career it has equipped me with a skillset that includes relationship building, empathy, advocacy, effective communication rigorous analysis, sound judgment, the art of persuasion and contextual awareness.”
“WVWC has obviously succeeded in cultivating these achievements in you, as evident by the class achievements,” Rattray said as he rattled off some of the achievements of the Class of 2017. “From a global, geopolitical perspective you will find that this mix of qualities will serve you exceedingly well. As young adults you are entering a world beset by problems that seriously threaten global societies and global families.”
The ambassador encouraged the graduates to help those less fortunate and to live and structure their lives by principles such as love, truth, integrity, humility, tolerance and self-discipline.
Assistant professor of history Tamara Bailey introduced Rattray. Bailey wrote to Rattray in May 2016 and received a reply from the ambassador that Wesleyan students would be welcome to visit at the Jamaican consulate in the United Nations. Bailey then sent in the paperwork to request an official visit.
Ten months later, Bailey and her international organizations class traveled to New York City to meet Rattray — armed with a West Virginia staple of pepperoni rolls from The Donut Shop.
“We were expecting 30 minutes and he gave us close to two hour,” Bailey said. “Honesty, it wasn’t just the academic content of this discussion that made this such a compelling experience, it was the environment the ambassador created the moment he walked into the space.
“I will never forget how the ambassador engaged our group, asking them about their personal experiences, inviting questions and reminding us of the importance of knowing yourself, allowing perceptions of mentors to guide you on your journey and remembering that a cup of coffee in hallway can garner far more progress than a meeting at a table and prepared remarks.
“It was an awe-inspiring moment in the lives of our political science students. Three seniors will cherish this memory of part of their Wesleyan experience.”
Gavin Appleby, chair of West Virginia Wesleyan College’s board of trustees, spoke to the families in attendance.
“Thanks for sharing your graduates with us,” he said. “I have no doubt that this celebration has been long anticipated for some of you, probably for four years. Maybe for some of you a little more than four years, and that’s OK.
“Thank you for supporting your graduate and everything you have done. What you have done for him or her is wonderful and priceless. Without you, today would not be possible.
“To our graduates today, we celebrate, and deservedly so, for you are about to be recognized for an achievement you should cherish for the rest of your lives, your degree from your home among the hills.
“Today also marks the proverbial beginning of the rest of your life. One chapter is closing but tomorrow begins another. Hopefully, on this day you can take time to stop, smell the roses, take it all in and commit it to a wonderful memory.
“For those of you who have already set a firm course for the future, who know exactly what you want to do and exactly where life will take you, congratulations. For the other 98 percent of you, take comfort in the words, ‘I just had the most wonderful college liberal arts experience and I came out of college with that experience but still not certain what I wanted to do.’”
Appleby said a lot of the graduates are in that category, and that’s OK.
“For what it’s worth, I was one of those uncertain graduates my senior year,” Appleby said. “But fear not. I can absolutely tell you my Wesleyan experience was stronger and more important than I ever could have realized when I sat where you sit 40 years ago.”
Three months later, Appleby began law school at the University of Virginia and realized within three weeks that he was right on level with his peers who had came from Ivy League colleges.
“The education you received from West Virginia Wesleyan College is more important than you can possibly imagine,” he said.
Appleby also recognized Richard Baisden, class of 1967, who was representing his class on stage and will celebrate 50 years at WVWC’s homecoming this fall.
Dr. Boyd Creasman, interim president of the college, said, “We celebrate today the accomplishments of the Class of 2017.”
“Graduates, you have accomplished great things in your time here at Wesleyan,” he said. “You have excelled in the classroom, in co-curricular activities, in athletic competitions and in service to others. In doing so, you have helped perpetuate the excellence of our institution, so thank you. As you begin the next chapters of your lives we hope that Wesleyan has prepared you for success in the work place or in your continuing education. Please know that Wesleyan graduates possess a set of skills that prepare them for upward mobility in their places of employment and may you enjoy even greater success in the years ahead.”
Creasman asked the faculty and staff to stand to be recognized for their contributions to the graduate’s education.
Aaron Kessler, president of the senior class, announced that the senior class had raised $13,600 towards the purchase of multiple emergency call towers to be placed on campus.