The state’s oldest community and technical college graduate will be the commencement speaker for West Virginia University at Parkersburg at its 48th annual spring ceremony on Saturday, May 11 at 10:30 a.m. in the college activities center.

Sharon O’Neill, 83, of Parkersburg, is the eldest community and technical college graduate since the inception of the West Virginia Community and Technical College System in 2004. She will join 265 graduates of WVU Parkersburg this semester. O’Neill will complete a Regents Bachelor of Arts with an emphasis in history.

“I am one of those who has a bucket list, and coming to WVU Parkersburg was at the top of that list,” O’Neill said. “It is very important to receive as much education as you can to better yourself and provide a better life for you and your family.”

Before attending WVU Parkersburg, O’Neill worked as a Wood County Board of Education secretary and retired with 34 years of employment from the Bureau of Fiscal Service. O’Neill lives by the motto of the three C’s: Can’t, Change and Challenge. She advises that individuals cannot let bad or painful experiences stop them from being who they really are; change is to be accepted and everyone must challenge themselves to go above and beyond what is required of them to truly succeed.

“Many people have had a bad childhood and adolescence. The scars don’t go away, but like all scars, you need to accept them and go forward. You cannot let the scars stop you from being the person that you really are,” she said.

O’Neill warns of the change younger generations will experience in their lifetime. The world has evolved since she was 20 years old, and everyone needs to be adaptable to an evolving environment as she has.

Many events in American history inspired a change in her life. The attack on Pearl Harbor happened when she was just five years old. She and her step-grandmother were washing dishes after Sunday dinner. The radio was on, and all of a sudden, the attack was announced. Her startled grandmother dropped one of the cups to their Haviland china set. Her grandfather was a small town business owner. He rigged two large radios together and set them outside of his storefront. This way, any passersby would be able to stay up-to-date on the tragedy.

“Pearl Harbor happened on a Sunday, and the president’s speech happened that Tuesday. People walking by on the streets would crunch together so they could hear every bit of news while shopping,” O’Neill said.

As a grown woman, she experienced the Kennedy assassination and the Civil Rights Movement.

“I will have to say that speech, ‘I Have a Dream,’ is one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century. We should all have a dream for our children, and we should all want to judge people by the content of their character,” O’Neill said of the Civil Rights movement. “It changed my attitude, and it made me aware that we had to make a change.”

She committed to another change when she went back to college at WVU Parkersburg, as did several other students.

This semester, WVU Parkersburg plans to award 350 certificate, associate and bachelor’s degrees to 265 students, pending final grades. More than 120 students are planning to participate in the ceremony.

At this commencement, WVU Parkersburg will also announce the Bernard P. McDonough Outstanding Faculty Member of the Year, and award emeritus status to past faculty and staff. Nominations for the Bernard P. McDonough Outstanding Faculty Member are from the campus community and submitted based on an individual’s contribution in service to the students, institution, community, and for professional activities and personal growth.

Spring 2019 emeritus award recipients include:

  • Pam Braden, professor of marketing and management, following 39 years of service;
  • Dinah Braniff, program assistant II, following 29 years of service;
  • Julie Heller, associate professor in nursing and health sciences, following 15 years of service;
  • Jeffrey Scott, financial aid counselor, following 40 years of service;
  • Jim Haines, press operator II, following 40 years of service;
  • John Gorrell, WVU Parkersburg Jackson County Center dean, following 22 years of service;
  • Pamela Clevenger, administrative associate, following 27 years of service; and
  • Rebecca Scarberry, program assistant II, following 17 years of service.

Annually, the college awards an outstanding alumnus. This year, a young alumnus will also be recognized.

Alumni of the Year, James E. “Jimmy” Colombo, is the former mayor of Parkersburg, current Wood County Commissioner and landmark restaurant owner. He attended WVU Parkersburg until 1964 when he transferred to Marietta College to complete a Bachelor of Arts degree. He was appointed by then Governor Joe Manchin to the West Virginia Parole Board in 2010. Colombo is a long-time supporter of and benefactor to WVU Parkersburg, including his establishment of the James B. and Anna M. Colombo scholarship fund.

Youth Alumni of the Year, Jonathan Kirk Heath, is a 2013 magna cum laude graduate of WVU Parkersburg with a Board of Governors Associate of Arts and Regents Bachelor of Arts degrees. Kirk also graduated from the West Virginia University College of Law with a Doctor of Jurisprudence concentrating in international law. He currently serves as a magistrate with the 31st Judicial District in the Commonwealth of Virginia and will receive a graduate certificate in Advanced International Affairs from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University this spring.

About WVU Parkersburg

Established in 1961, West Virginia University at Parkersburg is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Academic credits earned at WVU Parkersburg are transferable to any institution in the West Virginia higher education state system as well as other accredited institutions throughout the country. WVU Parkersburg is the only public community college in West Virginia accredited to offer baccalaureate degrees.