Virginia University of Lynchburg honored graduates Saturday afternoon in its 133rd commencement ceremony.
James Coleman, faculty chair and dean of the Leonard N. Smith School of Religion as well as Lynchburg City School Board chairman, in his opening remarks to start the ceremony, told graduates that the greatest tragedy in life is not to try and fail, but to “have gifts and do nothing with them.”
“Class of 2023, today is all about you knowing that you can and will tackle the world with your VUL degree,” Coleman said.
VUL President Kathy Franklin, in her speech, asked graduates to stand and turn to all of their family members who supported them along the journey and say, “thank you,” in what she explained is one of the college’s “cherished commencement traditions.”
“To the family members or friends around me, thank you. Thank you for trusting your loved ones, our university in their time here. Thank you for all that you have done to ensure their success,” Franklin said.
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To the graduates, Franklin said from this day forward “you will remain forever a Dragon and forever a part of the VUL community.”
“Let today serve as a beginning and not an ending, follow your passions, your interest and your foundational values to discover your own unique path to live a life of purpose,” Franklin said. “Most importantly, embrace the opportunities ahead of you and use the platform you’ve earned to change the world for the better.”
VUL honored over 200 graduates Saturday, as students received doctorates, bachelor’s, master’s and associate’s degrees.
Pierre Batteau, who received his doctorate in health care administration, said it’s a relief and joyful to receive his degree as it’s been a “long journey.”
“It’s one of the hardest things in my life to get here today,” Batteau said.
Batteau said there were family sacrifices, late nights and a number of things that went into his achievement. After receiving his degree, Batteau said he has a duty “to make the world a better place” and to work with the health care administrators to make health care better for himself, his children and for the future generation.
Masse Adjetey-Adjevi, who also received his doctorate in health care administration, said he feels relieved and accomplished to finally receive his degree.
“It was a bumpy road and I had to make a lot of sacrifices to be where I am today. So it was not easy. It was a very stressful program, but it’s worth it,” Adjetey-Adjevi said.
Regina Wright, who received her Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies, said she plans to do outreach and help youth and adults in Virginia do great things, see opportunities and help them to recognize their potential.
“I think it’s a relief, but it’s also encouraging to keep going,” Wright said.
John M. Borek, Jr. — an ordained minister, former president of Liberty University from 1997 to 2004 as well as a current faculty member in the school of business and professional studies at VUL — delivered the commencement address.
“You’re part of a line, a line of graduates from HBCU institutions across this country,” Borek said. “There’s 107 [HBCU] institutions, and so you’re unique.”
A theme of Borek’s address to the group was inspiration.
He told graduates to never forget the person who inspired them, and make sure to inspire someone else.
Borek talked about Martin Luther King Jr. and encouraged the group to read Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, saying those two men were great inspirations.
Borek said you can’t listen to King’s speech in Washington D.C. and not be inspired.
He emphasized that King was an “inspirer and encourager.”
“You can be that and you must become that … you’ve got to inspire somebody and encourage somebody,” Borek said.
Borek said he was the first person in his family to graduate from high school, as he was raised by his grandmother and great-uncle.
He said his grandmother, great-uncle and mother inspired him along his journey to finish school.
He also told a story of his grandson, who was struggling in college. Borek had him come visit, and he and his wife encouraged him to keep going which helped him to finish a physician assistant program.
He encouraged the graduates to go talk to someone — a brother, sister, neighbor’s child — and do the same.
“Talk to some young kid, encourage them, inspire them,” Borek said.