WHEELING - The largest class of graduates in 16 years crossed the stage at Wheeling Jesuit University on Saturday morning to accept their degrees after being told by a 9/11 widow that it's OK to fail sometimes.
Commencement speaker Patti Quigley, executive director of Razia's Ray of Hope Foundation, lost her husband in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She was pregnant with their second daughter. Quigley also is the sister of WJU president, the Rev. James J. Fleming, S.J.
Quigley offered the class of 418 graduates some sage advice after she turned tragedy into triumph by helping others. She said failure teaches us how to recover and make "a Plan B." She also strongly urged the graduates to become citizens of the world and champion even just one cause for the betterment of others, and to stay strong and true to their values.
Photo by Heather Ziegler
Taking part in Saturday’s graduation ceremony at Wheeling Jesuit University are from left, commencement speaker Patti Quigley; valedictorian Adrianna Ferraro, WJU President, the Rev. James J. Fleming, S.J. ; and alumni honoree Louis Volpe.
"Life is full of the unexpected. Life does not always go as planned. Like your husband is murdered and you are eight months pregnant," Quigley said. "I readjusted, I evaluated my choices and I created a happy life. Be safe and good luck."
Quigley garnered huge applause when she snapped a "selfie" on her cellphone, likening it to those of President Obama and comedienne Ellen DeGeneres.
Fleming offered his thoughts to the class, reminding them of all they had been through together.
"I arrived at WJU four years ago, and so did the class of 2014. We experienced death together and we experienced life together. We leave you today in our prayers and with our love," he said.
In addition to Quigley receiving an honorary degree, WJU alumnus and Wheeling resident Louis Volpe was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters. A member of the class of 1970, Volpe was a teacher at local Catholic schools since graduating from college - first at St. John Central in Bellaire and from 1976 to 2010 at Wheeling Central Catholic. Since his retirement, Volpe continues serves as moderator of two clubs the Central Catholic - Guys and Girls United to Serve and Knight to Knight. In addition to his career, Volpe has been an active member of Wheeling Jesuit' Alumni Council for many years. He is the recipient of the 1999 Rev. Clifford Lewis, S.J. Award, the highest award given by the alumni association, for his extraordinary service, contribution and dedication to WJU.
Valedictorian Adrianna Ferraro recalled the countless memories of their four years at WJU and paid tribute to classmate Kevin Figianiak who was killed in August of 2013.
"Four years ago, we probably never thought we'd make Sheetz runs on a nightly basis, learn all the words to 'Country Roads' if we didn't know them already, or look forward to Wednesdays every week just for the chicken patties. Four years ago. Before we met some of the greatest people of our lives. Before we thought we'd look up to heaven instead of down the hall to find one of our beloved classmates.
"There's a seat here for all of us today, one is just higher than the rest of ours. As we leave Wheeling Jesuit today, I know we can make change in our world with everything we've learned because we've already done it. With the passing of our classmate, friend and teammate, Kevin Figaniak, we have grown closer in selfless community and become what Jesuit has always taught us to be, which is men and women for others. We have changed each other in positive ways ... Rest in peace, Kevin Figaniak. And congratulations Wheeling Jesuit Class of 2014. Go out and change the world.
Students, faculty and staff wore red and yellow ribbons on their gowns to remember Figaniak, a business major from Silverdale, Pa.
Taylor Shaye Christman of Barnesville was salutatorian
In addition to recognizing student achievement, WJU gave Leslie Liedel, professor of history the Rev. Edward Gannon, S.J. Teaching Award on Saturday. Named in honor of former professor, Rev. Edward Gannon, S.J., the outstanding teacher honoree is nominated by students and faculty, then voted on by a select committee of faculty and alumni council members. All nominees are faculty who have distinguished themselves as outstanding teachers and scholars, and exemplify the Jesuit tradition of service to the university and wider community.