Berger tells WVU graduates to 'pay it forward'

By The West Virginia Record | Dec 20, 2006

In October, Kanawha Circuit Judge Irene Berger also was honored as West Virginia University Alumni Association's Alumna of the Year.

MORGANTOWN -- On Dec. 10, Kanawha Circuit Judge Irene Berger was the speaker at West Virginia University's December Graduations Convocation held at the WVU Coliseum.

Here is a transcript of her speech, which was titled "Pay It Forward."

"To President Hardesty, chairman and members of the Board of Governors, deans, faculty, graduates, families and friends,

"First, let me say congratulations to each and every graduate. I applaud you. I applaud the focus, determination and all of the hard work that brought you here today. You have finally "made it."

"Congratulations, too, to every parent of a graduate. Your support and many sacrifices have paid off and made today possible for your graduate. I know your hearts are full.

"I am thrilled and energized as I look out across this room today. The talent, the courage and the potential in this room this afternoon is simply electrifying.

"When I began school here in 1972, it was a nine-hour drive from my hometown in the southern part of the state. My boyfriend (and now husband) had enrolled here the previous year, and when my parents drove off, I thought surely I had died and gone to heaven. Of course, as many others have said, my seven years here were some of the very best of my life.

"When I graduated from this university in 1979, I had neither the poise nor the insight that I have seen in members of your class. You have made good use of your time in the classrooms of this great university. You have had your time in the dormitories, at the 'Lair, at the stadium, the Coliseum and even at Sunnyside. Some of you have had the opportunity to take classes abroad. You have learned, and you have learned to learn. You have much to give.

"You must take your exemplary education and pay it forward. Many of you will remember the book of this title written by Catherine Ryan Hyde or the 2000 movie.

"In the book and the movie, the term "pay it forward" meant performing a gratuitous act for someone and they, in turn, were to do the same. The theory was that we could effect positive change in the world with gratuitous acts of kindness. I hope in your lifetime you will do many such acts.

"However, when I speak of "paying it forward" today, I simply mean using what you have been given here at West Virginia University and doing your very best, in your chosen career or path, to positively impact others. You follow a long line of alums who have paid it forward and distinguished themselves in their various fields.

"You must take what you were given here and pay it forward like Emily Morey-Holton, who received her bachelor's, master's and doctorate here and worked in research with NASA to help them understand astronauts' body responses during flight; like Robert Foglesong, who obtained his bachelor's, master's and doctorate in chemical engineering and went on to become a four-star general serving as assistant to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and commanding the U.S. Air Forces in Europe; like George Esper, who, as a student, wrote for the DA, joined the Associated Press five years after graduation, gave 30 years of service with the International Press Corp. and was designated by the AP worldwide as a special correspondent; or like Dr. Larry Schwab who obtained bachelor's and medical degrees from WVU, completed a science course in ophthalmology at the Harvard School of Medicine and spent more than 20 years working with the International Eye Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention and cure of blindness worldwide. Dr. Schwab authored a book, which has been used as a text by teachers, students and health care professionals working in blindness prevention.

"Pay it forward like Loretta Ucelli who received her bachelor's degree from the School of Journalism and served as director of White House communications and assistant to the president during the last two years of President Clinton's term, and Michael Ammar, who received his bachelor's degree in Business Administration and has been recognized as "one of the greatest living performers of magic." The Academy Of Magical Arts in Hollywood awarded him its Oscar equivalent for his renowned work in the field. The list goes on and on.

"These grads attended the same classes you attended. They read the same books, heard some of the same lectures, stayed in the same dorms, rushed the same sororities and fraternities, sat where you are sitting and obtained the same degrees you are obtaining today. College life for them was the same as for you (with the exception, perhaps, of computers, iPods and cell phones).

"None of them brought more to the table than you. They were no brighter, they were no more talented, and they certainly were not as special as you are. Like you, they had dreams, and like you, they had the desire to excel and the work ethic to support their dreams. They accepted help from others along the way. They have done nothing that you can't do better because you-and I mean each of you-are our best and brightest.

"So now it is your time to have families, to love and to laugh, to teach, to invent, to build, to write, to heal, to find cures, to be the CEOs, to participate in your government, to advocate and to lead. Yes, these are tall orders but that's what's expected when you wear the blue and gold.

"You now hold a degree from one of the country's best universities. As alums of this university, you must carry its banner high and always know that your accomplishments and your failures speak loud and clear about your beloved alma mater. Still, don't let the fear of failure keep you from trying-for the only ones who ever fail are the ones who never try.

"Before leaving, we must pay tribute to President David and Mrs. Susan Hardesty. They exemplify the concept of "paying it forward." Their genuine love, devotion and boundless energy for this university, their alma mater, are contagious and unsurpassed.
Through their joint effort and personal sacrifice, the national prominence of our university has been elevated. WVU's excellence in academics, research and student service is nationally recognized. For this, we owe a debt of gratitude. David and Susan, we salute you, we appreciate you, we love you.

"In conclusion, grads, I wish for you strong family ties, careers that are challenging and rewarding, lasting friendships and when you lie down in the quiet and peacefulness of the night, a sigh of fulfillment. Thank you."

More News

The Record Network