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Honoring tenacity while overcoming adversity

CPASS graduates conquer pandemic challenges in the pursuit of academic and professional goals.

Graduated students watch commencement ceremony from the stands of mountaineer field

West Virginia University celebrated the achievements of 2020 and 2021 graduates in four in-person ceremonies this May at Milan Puskar Stadium. Nearly 230 graduates from the College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences walked across the stage to receive their diplomas while faculty, staff, family members and friends joined in the celebration to honor the newest WVU alumni.

WVU invited May, August and December 2020 graduates to participate with the May 2021 graduates after more than a year of pandemic restrictions. We were happy to welcome the graduates to campus to applaud this milestone and continue the in-person commencement tradition.

CPASS ceremonies took place Saturday, May 15 at 9 a.m. and included Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design and Reed College of Media students.

Jack Watson, CPASS dean, highlighted the significance of the moment. “After years of hard work and persistence you are completing one phase of your life’s journey and will soon be embarking on a new one,” Watson said. “During this time, you’ve been forced to become extremely adaptable, and you’ve likely learned to practice cognitive flexibility, patience and compassion. While not the final year of college you envisioned, if you let them, these new skills will serve you well in the future,” he said.

“As you turn your focus to the future, I want you to know that few of us achieve meaningful successes without effort, hard work, a growth mindset, and yes, even failures. If we approach life with the right mindset, these challenges can be some of our most important learning and growth experiences,” he added.

WVU livestreamed each ceremony for those unable to attend in person. 

Student spotlights

Portrait of Mackenzie Hawkins in graduation attire

Mackenzie Hawkins

Major in Athletic Training, Minor in Sport and Exercise Psychology

Hometown: Shinnston, W.Va.

Why did you choose WVU CPASS?

I initially chose CPASS because it housed the major I was interested in, but as my time at WVU progressed, I decided to stay within the college for a minor in SEP. The small, tight-knit community in our building turns a large university into a small campus. I met and connected with professors and staff members who cared about my growth as a student.

What’s your favorite thing about WVU and Morgantown?

WVU is a great representation of the state of West Virginia. As a resident and a Mountaineer, I have seen firsthand that the amount of pride we, as students, have in our university is consistent with the amount of pride that West Virginians have in our state.

How did CPASS prepare you for your next chapter?

CPASS and the Athletic Training program gave me the opportunity to be fully immersed into the athletic training profession through clinical experience. I was a part of WVU sports programs by attending practices and games as well as traveling across the Big 12 conference. I became a part of something bigger than myself, while gaining useful knowledge and skills in the process.

What are your post-graduation plans?

Attend graduate school to be a Physician’s Assistant

James McCarty poses for a photo at the white house press briefing room

James McCarty

Major in Sport and Exercise Psychology, Minor in Human Services

Hometown: Clifton, Va.

Why did you choose WVU CPASS?

I chose CPASS for the world-renowned SEP program and having nice classrooms and facilities that are centrally located on the Evansdale campus.

What’s your favorite thing about WVU and Morgantown?

WVU and Morgantown are the perfect blend between having everything you need nearby plus being able to get out into nature and escape from reality. And I love Kegler’s gold wings.

How did CPASS prepare you for your next chapter?

Dr. Scott Barnicle has taught me so much inside and out of the classroom. I am forever grateful for the guidance and insight he has given me over the years. Being a peer advisor offered me the opportunity to develop my public speaking skills and opened many doors such as presenting at an SEP Midwest Sport and Exercise Psychology Symposium.

What are your post-graduation plans?

I plan to pursue a career in medical sales for an orthopedic device company.

Portrait of Olivia Martinelli

Olivia Martinelli

Major in Physical Education Teacher Education

Hometown: Upper Township, N.J.

Why did you choose WVU CPASS?

I chose WVU CPASS because I knew that the PETE program would help me prepare for my career after college. I read about how amazing the PETE program was, so I knew that this university and program would be the place for me.

What’s your favorite thing about WVU and Morgantown?

My favorite thing about WVU and Morgantown is how kind everyone is. If you do not know directions or need help, you can ask almost anyone. They are always willing to help.

How did CPASS prepare you for your next chapter?

Drs. Wyant, Tsuda and Taliaferro have been the best professors I could ever have had. They have helped me critique and expand my teaching skills in ways that I will take with me when I become a physical education teacher myself.

What are your post-graduation plans?

Working for Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida as a Physical Education teacher.

Portrait of Caden Roberts

Caden Roberts

Major in Sport Management, Minor in Scholastic Coaching

Hometown: Martinsburg, W.Va.

Why did you choose WVU CPASS?

CPASS offered a degree program that aligns with my career objectives. Additionally, it is an affordable in-state program that isn’t too far from my home. It is part of a university with major athletic programs that offer opportunities to obtain hands-on experience as a student.

What’s your favorite thing about WVU and Morgantown?

My favorite thing I like about Morgantown and WVU is the wide range of activities and entertainment available to students. There is always something to do and new people to meet.

How did CPASS prepare you for your next chapter?

Dr. Justin Wartella has played a significant role in both my academic and professional development. He offered guidance, advice and assistance, and provided me with opportunities through the University to develop skills needed to succeed in the workplace. One of the most rewarding experiences that Dr. Wartella offered me was the opportunity to speak to one of his classes about my journey as a basketball coach to inspire incoming sport management students to seek early career experience opportunities.

What are your post-graduation plans?

I am currently in the latter stages of choosing a Division I basketball program to continue my career as a basketball coach. I am exploring both graduate assistant and support staff opportunities with multiple basketball programs across the country.

Portrait of Alexis Shura

Alexis Shura

Major in Sport Management, Minors in Sport Communication and General Business

Hometown: Rochester, N.Y.

Why did you choose WVU CPASS?

I felt as if the program would provide me with the most opportunities and experiences. Sports have been a passion of mine since I was a kid and I knew that the program would help me grow.

What’s your favorite thing about WVU and Morgantown?

WVU and Morgantown have such a tight knit campus community. Mountaineer Nation has diehard fans and it’s one of the most unique places I’ve ever been.

How did CPASS prepare you for your next chapter?

My professors have been incredibly supportive. They were always willing to help me with anything, whether it was for internship opportunities or schoolwork. I had great mentors within WVU Campus Recreation. Both groups ultimately led me to my next steps and I thank them for their guidance in my success.

What are your post-graduation plans?

I will attend graduate school at James Madison University and study sport and recreation leadership. While obtaining my master’s degree, I will complete a graduate assistantship in facilities and operations with JMU Campus Recreation.

Portrait of Alec Taylor

Alec Taylor

Major in Sport and Exercise Psychology, Minor in Human Services/Counseling

Hometown: Rocky Gap, Va.

Why did you choose WVU CPASS?

I chose CPASS due to my passion for sports and the academic common market opportunities within the program.

What’s your favorite thing about WVU and Morgantown?

I love how Gold and Blue surrounds you at all times in Morgantown. The history and tradition of our institution bonds Mountaineers together across the globe. WVU will always be a part of who I am and I’m honored to be a Mountaineer.

How did CPASS prepare you for your next chapter?

The impact Dr. Scott Barnicle had on my college experience cannot be overstated. Dr. Barnicle was the greatest instructor I had at WVU. He taught me what effective learning should look like.

What are your post-graduation plans?

I plan to enter the workforce working with individuals with special needs.

Portrait of Rei Watanabe

Rei Watanabe

Major in Sport Management

Hometown: Tokyo, Japan

Why did you choose WVU CPASS?

WVU has one of the best sport management programs in the country. I always dreamed as a kid growing up in Japan of getting involved in a basketball program at a Power Five conference school. My goal is to make Japanese professional basketball league one of the best leagues around the world. I thought it would be great to learn sport management at WVU.

What’s your favorite thing about WVU and Morgantown?

My favorite thing about WVU is the relationships I built. As a transfer student from a community college, I was little worried about establishing connections with friends and professors. I made great friendships that will last a lifetime. All the CPASS professors took care of me inside and outside the classroom.

How did CPASS prepare you for your next chapter?

Because I was a transfer student, I was behind schedule academically. Since I was a student manager for the Men's Basketball team, it was hard to work out the class schedule by myself to graduate in May 2021. I was often traveling with the team and had to miss classes, but my advisor, faculty and staff helped me out. Experiences I had at the basketball team were unforgettable, however, I appreciate all the support that I got from CPASS.

What are your post-graduation plans?

I am planning to go back to my country and work there.