MOOREFIELD — In the long-storied saga of Moorefield’s McCoy Theater, history etched yet another memorable mark this past May 15, as a local community college conducted its first-ever formal commencement. Nearly four dozen college students received their well-deserved degrees and certificates as some 150 family, friends, college faculty and staff celebrated the event.

“This graduation ceremony is a real landmark for Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College,” said Eastern President Bob Sisk, as he welcomed the overflow audience to the historic celebration. “I’m especially proud to be part of it and of the students and people who worked hard to achieve it.”

As the graduates marched one-by-one across the stage elegantly clad in gleaming hunter green academic caps and gowns, Sisk and Eastern Board of Governors’ Chair Scott Sherman — also in full academic regalia — shook hands with each one and presented each a diploma or certificate.

In past years, before Eastern received independent accreditation, the college operated as an affiliated campus of Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College. To attend official graduation ceremonies then, students and families had to travel 265 miles to Logan, or else miss out on the special occasion.

“Today is a special day for many reasons,” Sherman — who also serves as General Manager of Hardy Telecommunications — told the assembly. “Above all else, we recognize and celebrate our graduates — our students.”

Eastern’s 17 top achieving students — who made the President’s or Dean’s lists — received special recognition during the ceremonies, as did the college’s eight new members of Phi Theta Kappa — the international academic honor society for two-year colleges — and the five Potomac Highlands high school seniors who have won Eastern scholarships for the coming year.

Congratulating the college on the historic occasion, commencement speaker Barbara Whitecotton acknowledged that “Eastern is implanted now — it’s here to stay. It’s a part of our children’s’ future.”

Whitecotton, superintendent of Hardy County Schools, lauded “all of today’s graduates, because you’ve made a really good choice. You chose to increase your ability to earn income, and you’ve increased your ability to make all of our communities better places for living — so it’s you really deserve a community thank-you.

“I’m proud of you all, and I’m especially proud of the older, adult students who made this choice.”

Reminding the graduates that “you're going to be accountable for what you do for yourself, for your family and for your community,” she advised them to “make the hard choices even if they’re not popular.

“I look forward to your futures, to your lives,” she said, “because I think there are great things ahead for you.”

This year’s program also paid tribute to several college staff members, starting with Sisk, who received the eighth annual Harold K. Michael Founders Award. In presenting that prestigious award, board chair Sherman hailed Sisk’s “character, leadership, determination, and drive in advancing the college forward in its mission and helping it achieve its vision.

“He has worked tirelessly over the last three years to make sure Eastern survived as a college,” Sherman said, “and now Eastern is starting to thrive. Quite frankly — and I’m sure the Board of Governors would agree with me on this — Eastern would not be having its very own, first official graduation ceremony today if it were not for Bob Sisk’s leadership of the college over the last three years.”

Sisk practices that leadership, Sherman pointed out, through his habit of “recognizing all of those who’ve worked with him to make it happen and giving them all the credit.”

Sisk, who will retire at the end of June from a career in education spanning nearly 40 years, acknowledged that he had “heard a lot of comments over the past three years about how much the college has grown.” Then, just as Sherman had predicted, he quickly shifted the spotlight away from himself.

“I think it’s just a matter of letting people loose and they will astonish you with what they can do,” he said. “So I think this award has to go to everybody at Eastern.”

In that same collaborative tone set by the retiring president, and continuing a tradition that began seven years ago, Eastern also honored a community partner. “The Active Partners in Educational Excellence award recognizes those organizations engaged with the college in extraordinary service activities to the citizens, employers and communities of the Potomac Highlands,” Sherry Watts, Eastern’s Director of Workforce Development, said.

The Matthias Baker Emergency Squad earned the APEX this year for partnering with the college in the creation of a new, advanced paramedic training — the Critical Care Transport (CCT) program. “Learners in this program will acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to manage a patient in critical condition during transfers between hospitals, specialty referral centers and extended care facilities,” Watts said.

Also as part of the alliance activity, Eastern will offer CPR training throughout its Potomac Highlands service district, moving the training to different counties each quarter.

Other Eastern staff recognized at the ceremony included one-year service pin recipients Krissy Heavener, accounting clerk/cashier; Dave Jones, counselor; Jessica Lamb, public relations/marketing specialist; and Doug Swick, auto tech instructor. Five-year pins went to Sharon Gott, instructor and coordinator for developmental education-math, and Pam Shrader, program manager for secondary school partnerships, while Trina Branson, business office administrator; Monica Snyder, associate director of admissions, and Tim Riggleman, director, information systems and technology, took home their 10-year service pins.

The college also honored Deb Backus, academic program director for general education and instruction, for her five years of dedication as advisor to Beta Nu Lambda, Eastern’s local chapter of the international honor society. And Amanda Sites, director of financial aid, won plaudits for her “outstanding contribution to community college education.”

Pastor Steve Davis of the Dorcas Baptist Church offered the invocation and the benediction and Tiffany Bland sang the national anthem.

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