Thunderstorms that threatened Blacksburg throughout Friday evening did not dampen spirits or tassels as Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell told nearly 3,000 graduating Virginia Tech students, “I am confident that, even in a tough economy, you will find great opportunities in New York, Beijing, London, Los Angeles, and more importantly, in Richmond, Roanoke, Reston, and Radford.”
Violent weather throughout the area delayed graduation ceremonies until 8:30pm as nearly 25,000 supporters gathered in Lane Stadium to honor the graduates. Camera flashes inside the stadium rivaled lightning flashes in the distance as Governor McDonnell recognized the four graduates in the audience who were injured during the April 16, 2006 shootings. “Life is short and all too fleeting,” McDonnell said. “It can be taken in the quickest of moments, and in ways that we will never be able to understand. This community knows that all too well. Eight chairs are empty today. In each of them would have sat a fellow graduate ready to embrace the challenges and opportunities of the world. Instead, their lives were cut tragically short on that chilly April day in 2007. That pain is still real.”
McDonnell avoided political overtones in his speech, instead delivering a concise and seemingly heart-felt instruction for successful living. The governor stressed working hard, dreaming big and living each day to the fullest. “To put it simply, character counts, results matter,” McDonnell told the graduates.
McDonnell acknowledged the four shooting survivors who received degrees Friday; Undergraduates Heidi Miller and Hilary Strollo and graduate students Justin Klein and Kevin Sterne. One other survivor, Derek O’Dell, is currently a student in VT’s Veterinary School.
Bob McDonnell is the sixth newly-elected Virginia governor to give Virginia Tech’s commencement address since 1990, a tradition that began with former Governor Douglas Wilder, a Democrat and the first African American elected governor in the United States. McDonnell, a Republican, served in the Virginia House of Delegates and as state attorney general before stepping down to run for governor.
While McDonnell has cited education and economic development as priorities of his administration, by 2012 Virginia Tech is expected to lose up to $75 million in state funding for instruction and operations. Meanwhile, the United States Graduating Class of 2010 faces unemployment rates of nearly 10 percent nationally, according to April figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and 7.6 percent in Virginia.
McDonnell ended his remarks by challenging the newest Hokie graduates to go forward and change the world. “2010 graduates of Virginia Tech, leaders of the Hokie Nation, congratulations. I commend you on what you have accomplished. With hard work and divine providence, you will succeed in making your mark in this world, and Virginia and America will be better places because of you. God Bless you, and Go Hokies!”
Within minutes after the graduation ceremonies concluded a gentle rain began to fall on Lane Stadium as lightning diminished on the distant horizon. The Hokie Class of 2010 had prevailed again, together, through their final storm at Blacksburg.
Clarke County’s Virginia Tech Graduates:
Shane Cochran (Class of 2005) – Mechanical Engineering and Civil Engineering
Matt Hoyt (Class of 2005) – Finance
Daniel Miller (Class of 2005) – Biology and Spanish
Mary Margaret Morris (Class of 2006) – Psychology
Jesse Racer (Class of 2006) – Computer Engineering
Emily McWhinney (Class of 2006) – Psychology
Ashley Shim (Class of 2006) – Biology
Ashley Devereux (class of 2006) – Management
Edward Michael Leonard (Class of 2006) – Psychology
Hanne Ailes Small (Class of 2006) – Wildlife Science