BETHANY, W.Va. – U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) delivered an important message to graduates during Bethany College’s 181st commencement ceremony: The United States is counting on you.

Senator Joe Manchin Commencement“I believe in you more than you believe in yourself,” Manchin said. “I know the good in you. You’ve been able to persevere. How many people have never had the opportunity you’ve had? How many people have not been able to persevere to get a degree? Think about it. There’s something special about you. There is a calling and we need you, more now than ever.”

Manchin, who has served in the Senate since 2010, is the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He serves on the Senate’s appropriations, armed services, and veterans’ affairs committees.

His wife, Gayle Connelly Manchin, a Bethany College Trustee, was recently confirmed as co-chairman of the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Senator Manchin said he struggled in writing his commencement address, particularly after a year of remoteness. But as he did so, he began to reflect on his life and experiences, including the insurrection at the Capitol in January.

Manchin said many in his generation have been radicalized by an information age for which they were unprepared.

181st Commencement“I never grew up in this type of information age, but you have,” he said. “This world, and definitely the United States of America, is depending on you. We are depending on you to navigate this and bring us back together. Politics has become a blood sport; it was never intended that way. We are still the greatest nation on the earth … We should be setting an example.”

No one can do it alone, Manchin said. “It’s not all about you and me; it’s about us.”

He also encouraged graduates to remember those who helped them achieve their own goals.

“You’ve got a lot of people here who love you, who sacrificed for you,” he said. “All of you know that. I hope you take the time today not only to thank them but to give them a hug and a kiss and tell them how much you love them.”

Saturday’s commencement ceremony celebrated not only the class of 2021 but also the class of 2020. Last year’s graduation was transitioned to a digital degree-conferral ceremony as Bethany completed its academic year remotely.

Commencement HoodBethany President Tamara Nichols Rodenberg drew plenty of applause in welcoming everyone to the in-person event, the largest on campus in more than a year.

“The last 13 months have not been easy,” she said. “We know that. But we also know that Bethany graduates look forward, not backward, using every experience, every sacrifice, and every perspective to guide and direct them. I encourage you to embrace your accomplishments and cherish this moment, and know full well that the diploma you will soon receive carries far more than your name and major; it reflects your unparalleled commitment to bettering yourself and creating a world of worth and value, regardless of the challenges you face.”

Rodenberg added an additional graduate to the class of 2021 by conferring an honorary doctorate in ministry with a specialization in finance to the Rev. Dr. Erick D. Reisinger, president of the Disciples Church Extension Fund.

Commencement ProcessionalLogan R. Mayhew gave the class of 2020 address, drawing from her research at West Virginia University on education and employment. The top skill sought by employers, she said, is ethical and moral reasoning.

“A liberal education provides just that, through the cultivation of enlightened individuals,” she said. “You are all proof of that. You are making the world a better place for future Bethany students. You are about to go out and do the same for still so many others, because of your time here. You will be the voice of virtue in every room you walk into. I have tremendous hope for the future of society because of people like every single one of you.”

In the class of 2021 address, Riley M. Meyers referenced the added challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic placed on the graduates

“Instead of giving up, which would have been easy to do, the class of 2020 and the class of 2021 persevered through the struggle, leading us to where we are today,” she said. “While goodbye could have been easily welcomed when we were forced to leave our schoolwork, our sports, our friends, and the lives we had been living behind, we chose to push through instead.”

Not only did the classes succeed, Meyers said, they wrote the book on it.

Provost Joe Lane recognized Olivia Archer, of Wheeling, W.Va., and Tatum Dyar, of Brazil, Ind., as the recipients of the 2020 Oreon E. Scott Award, which recognizes the graduates with the top academic standing throughout their college career. He also acknowledged 2020 recipient Rebecca Lee, of Huntington, W.Va.

Lane, who also is dean of faculty, also honored retiring full-time faculty and conferred new titles on each: Dr. Wilf Csaplar, professor emeritus of economics, and Jan Forsty, professor emerita of physical education and head softball coach emerita. (Forsty retired as softball coach in 2018.)

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Bethany College, founded in 1840, is the oldest private college in West Virginia. The Bethany experience focuses on academic excellence in the area of liberal arts and prepares students for a lifetime of work and a life of significance.