WHEELING, W.Va. – Wheeling University held its commencement ceremony Saturday. Commencement speaker Chase Watts told the Class of 2022 that by keeping character, courage and community in their minds and hearts, they will be successful in life. 

The Ohio State Highway Patrolman, who is a native of Martins Ferry, Ohio served as the speaker at the University’s 64th Commencement exercises on Saturday. He also was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.  

Character, he told the graduates, is what will set them apart from others and passed along a saying his father once told him. “Son, no matter where you go, your presence alone should change the atmosphere of the room. And if words ever attack you, your character will defend you.” Watts added, “Your character defines you, not your circumstances.” 

A few years ago, Watts said he came across a formula: Event + Response = Outcome. To manage this formula, he said one must have courage and strength of heart. “The response is most important when the event is most difficult. The more challenging the event, the greater the demand on your response. Courage is about making your response stronger than the event … It takes courage to identify your passions. It take courage to embrace your passions. However, it take the most courage to pursue your passions.” 

Watts said he learned through his own experiences the importance to serve the community. Service is, Watts explained, deeper than his profession, it is about stepping out of one’s comfort zone. “I have always felt that God gave me a gift of inspiring those around me and bringing people together. One of the biggest reasons I created a community-based organization is because I recognized and embraced my character traits, and had the courage to take action.” 

The Ohio State Trooper founded two programs – Books with Badges and Project P.A.S.T. (Positive Actions Shaping Teens) –­ both which provide positive role models for young people in the community.  

In closing, Watts said “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, we must use time creatively, and know that the time is always right to do right.” He told the graduates to embrace Dr. King’s words, and “always be you, and stay true to what you believe. That is your power, and this is your opportunity to be the change. Go forth and claim it!” 

During the ceremony, University President Ginny R. Favede awarded degrees to undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students  

Prior to handing out diplomas to the 2022 graduates, President Favede told the graduates they should be congratulated for their incredible resilience having endured a global pandemic. “It is always about enduring. It is always about staying with something long enough to finish. The lessons you take away from this experience will serve you well for a lifetime.” 

President Favede said while so many young people saw their dreams deferred by the pandemic, the Wheeling Class of 2022 worked harder and refused to give up – “you are champions, winners, conquerors, victors.” 

She added, “Class of 2022, I love each of you deeply. I am proud of you and who you have become. I have watched you grow. I have watched you evolve. I have watched you become enlightened…You have been educated to be men and women for and with others. Create beauty in our world by sharing your gifts and making the world a better place to live.” 

The President offered the graduates words from the Prophet Micah, “And what does the Lord require of you? To seek justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Finally, she told the class, “Seek justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with your God. Your life is an invaluable, priceless gift. Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” 

The class of 2022 also heard from Valedictorian Olivia Zampedro, a native of Mentor, Ohio. She  told her classmates, “No matter what our reasons were for choosing Wheeling University a few years ago, we are all here today to celebrate our achievements and victories both individually and as a school community, and the journey on which we have all begun toward our future destinations.” 

She told the class to never forget the Wheeling University mission to be men and women for life, leadership and service with and among others. Zampedro offered that serving others can make each person lifelong learners, effect change in the community and assist those in need.  

“Volunteerism can involve either great or small investments of our personal time, however, even small investments matter, as collectively they can be turned into significant accomplishments. For example, our campus beautification day. Ultimately, a couple hours of our individual time spent dedicated to making the campus a better place can altogether turn into hundreds of hours of volunteer effort,” Zampedro explained. 

“So, as we leave here today, I challenge you all to continue the mission of our school. Find time to make a difference in others’ lives and in your community. If you can’t find time, you should make time, because in the end it is not about the amount of time, it is about the effort you put into making a difference in someone else’s life. To quote Mother Theresa, ‘we cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love.’” 

The University honored Dr. Homayoun Hajiran, professor of Finance and Economics, by awarding him the Fr. Edward Gannon, S.J. Outstanding Teaching Award. Each year, Wheeling University gives two medals during Commencement to those graduates who have distinguished themselves both in service and in academics. The Mary Woomer Medal and Archbishop John J. Swint Medals, are given to the woman and man in the class who most exemplifies the ideals of Wheeling University. Olivia Zampedro was the recipient of the Woomer Medal, while Hayden Scudder was given the Swint Medal.  

This year, the University had a special guest speaker, James Brooks a member of the Class of 2022. He offered his classmates three scripture verses that “led me to my greatest victory in life … to help you gain a victory in life too.” 

He said Matthew 16:18 says, “I will build my church on this solid rock, and the gate of Hell will not prevail.” Brooks reminded the class of the story of the three little pigs and how the last pig built his house of bricks. “Because the last pig chose to use a solid foundation, his house stayed standing when adversity tried to knock it down.” He told his fellow graduates to build their lives on a solid foundation. “Jesus Christ… us that solid foundation. When our lives are built on Him … no storm that life throws at us can take us down.” 

Brooks then quoted Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” He offered this advice, “ I know many of us are nervous about being out of school and starting our life … Do not let things of this world chain you down and tell you that you cannot do something. You have God whose strength is unmatched. He is always with you and he will never forsake you.” 

Finally, he offered from Romans, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” 

“Life consistently tells us that we are not good enough, and I want you to know that you are good enough and loved unconditionally. Now go and secure you victory in life.”