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WVU holds commencement

by Alecia Sirk


Eric Adkins was easy to spot among the more than 2,000 members of West Virginia University's graduating class of 1998 Sunday. The 23-year-old Washington Irving alumnus was the one with the smiley-faced balloon tied to his cap.

The mylar balloon stretched about 5 feet above the crowd, its yellow-faced grin topped with a black graduation cap and red tassel. Adkins said the balloon was from his girlfriend.

"I tied it to my hat because I was happy. I'm happy to be graduating," said Adkins, a double-major in the College of Arts and Sciences. The chemistry and biology student will be starting at WVU Medical School in the fall. His parents, Allan and Susan Adkins of Clarksburg, are very proud, he said.

A trio of Harrison County's representatives at the graduation Sunday had already made the trek through medical school, making the passage toward three-year residencies.

Michael Hess, of Bridgeport, will be returning to United Hospital Center. He starts with the Department of Family Medicine in July.

"I felt like this might be my last chance to participate in a WVU function," said Hess of why he decided to attend the ceremony.

Before starting medical school, Hess worked for three years as a WVU admissions counselor. ÒI have a lot of pride in this school. I'll probably get real sentimental during the ceremony."

Many of the graduates and their families shared their pride in each other as the honorees draped black-cloaked arms about each other for a myriad of photos. Smiling into lenses and their futures, the grads captured moments to share with aunts, friends, and someday, grandchildren.

"This is what we've worked for our whole lives," said Jennifer A. Pumphry, of Lake Floyd, who earned her doctorate in medicine Sunday. Pumphry will do her residency with the WVU Hospitals Department of Family Medicine.

Kristin Grubb Haught, a 1993 Bridgeport High School graduate, will be leaving the state to begin a residency with the Penn State University Department of Radiology in Hershey, Pa.

Haught said she cried during the School of Medicine's hooding ceremony, when doctoral students receive the colored hoods they wear during commencement, which was held Saturday. Haught has more than academic reasons to be sentimental about WVU.

"I not only became a doctor, I also became a wife," said Haught, who got married during her college years to another WVU student.

WVU President and Shinnston native David C. Hardesty Jr. also spoke of change when he address the crowd, recapping some national events that had changed since they began their college years.

"Four years ago, no one had ever heard of Netscape and Michael Jackson had just married Lisa Marie Presley," he said.

Following Hardesty and two greeters, including West Virginia's First Lady Hovah Underwood, keynote speaker, Cpt. Scott O'Grady with the U.S. Air Force, spoke to the graduates about how their lives will change. O'Grady, author of the book "Return with Honor" was 29 years old when his life changed forever in just six days.

O'Grady was flying an F-16 aircraft in 1995 as part of a peace keeping mission during a civil war in the former Yugoslavia when his plane was shot down in hostile territory. He hid six days in the brush trying to radio for help while enemy soldiers walked not five feet away.

'Grade called the six days with out food or water the "most positive experience I have ever had in my life." It changed the relationship he had with his faith, he said. He didn't learn any new lessons, but the old lessons he had been taught came from the depths of conscience to carry him through.

For example, a lesson from summer camp: If you find the Big Dipper, you can see the North Star. O'Grady used that guidance to climb to the top of a hill so his radio signal would travel farther.

It was after 2 a.m. on his sixth day in Bosnia when he heard someone calling out his code name on the radio. He answered and the U.S. armed forces quickly came to the rescue.

When he looked up over the rise to see that first helicopter coming in, "it was the most beautiful sight I ever saw in my life. The U.S. Marine Corps was there, halfway around the world in hostile territory, to save my life. I was never more proud to be an American."

Just as the phrase "carpe diem," or seize the day, has special meaning for O'Grady, he reminded the graduates to seek happiness in life.

"You might be happy that you're graduating, you might be happy that you have a job, but you have to be happy right now," he said.

Adkins said he really liked O'Grady's speech.

"It was a good thing about how he remained motivated," Adkins said. "What we've gone through is nothing compared to what he did, and that's good to think about as we go on to school or a job."

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