PHILIPPI - The same woman who signed a document which officially converted a college in Philippi into a university also was the key speaker for the school's first commencement ceremony under its new title.
The class of 2014 was the first to graduate from Alderson Broaddus University on Saturday since the school's status changed last summer. West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant was able to celebrate both of those firsts with the academic institution.
"Just like the first cornerstone set in a foundation, this university has the ability not just to be the first here today, but also the ability to accomplish many more firsts," Tennant said.
Approximately 156 students walked across the stage to collect their diplomas at Alderson Broaddus University on Saturday. (The Inter-Mountain photo by Melissa Toothman)
Tennant said being on campus reminded her of another first in her life. She said she was the first female to represent West Virginia University as the Mountaineers' mascot.
"On my graduation day, I traded my muzzle-loaded gun for my journalism degree," Tennant said, "but that experience of standing up for what I believed I could do - even when others said 'a woman can't be the mountaineer' - shaped me. ... It also set in place a foundation where I learned if you are trying for something for genuine reasons, you'll be successful.
"At the same time, I became a pretty good shot, too. If you check out the pictures on my Facebook, there's proof of it."
Tennant also was one of three recipients of an honorary doctorate degree from Alderson Broaddus University. She was presented with the degree of Doctor of Public Service. Ronald G. James was presented with the degree of Doctor of Divinity. Saundra E. Hoxie was presented with the degree of Doctor of Education. The Outstanding Faculty Award was first announced and presented to Dr. Hooi Yin Boey, the assistant professor of music.
Although it is the first commencement ceremony as a university, it is ABU's 143rd graduating class as an academic institution. About 156 students walked across the stage to collect their master's, bachelor's and associate's degrees in their chosen fields of study.
"This day is here because of the courageous step that you made to better yourself," Tennant said, "to expect something more of yourself. This day is here because of bold ideas of leaders of this school and their willingness to put this institution on the cutting edge. Today is here because you are here. You are the first graduating class of Alderson Broaddus University. You are now the foundation and the future. You are forever 'ABU-nited.'"
The campus on the hill overlooking the small city of Philippi was packed with the friends and family of the college and the graduating seniors who traveled to the historic graduation.
"Our past is rich here up on this hill, in this city and in this county," Tennant said. "You cannot tell the history of West Virginia without telling the daring history of Philippi. The Covered Bridge and the site of the first land battle of the Civil War. And you here still honor that history."
It's been a year of many historic firsts for ABU, with the new residence halls, renovated facilities, new programs, a new cheerleading team, a new marching band, the opening of a new athletic complex and the first game on a field was played by the recently added football team.
"And there were people who would only believe this growth when they saw it," Tennant said. "Well, let me tell you, they believe it now. I was at the stadium. The aggressive actions of investing in this institution by building dorms, growing academic programs, building a stadium, starting a football team and a marching band and becoming a university all impact this region, because when AB is strong, so is Barbour County."