Thousands of students will don caps and gowns for college graduation ceremonies this month. Each of them has worked and persevered, but some special stories always emerge.
For Besart Stavileci, the journey began in war-torn Kosovo, where he grew up clinging to his vision of the American dream. On Saturday, he will join 520 classmates at Robert Morris University as they receive their bachelor's degrees at 9:30 a.m. at the Sewall Center on the Moon campus.
Mr. Stavileci will be speaking at the ceremony because he is the Class of 2012 president and is receiving the university's highest undergraduate honor -- the Presidential Transformational Award. An actuarial science major, he's graduating with a 3.92 grade-point average.
The school he attended in his homeland was often without heat or electricity. His family fled to Macedonia to escape bombings before Mr. Stavileci was able to pursue his education in the United States.
RMU President Gregory G. Dell'Omo said, "Besart is a leader who sets an example not only for students but also for faculty and staff who have been inspired by his extraordinary background and his achievements."
On campus, Mr. Stavileci is a resident assistant, mathematics tutor and a staff writer for The Sentry, the student newspaper. He's president of Carpe Mundum, the university organization for international students, volunteers with the International Red Cross, has worked with the homeless in Washington, D.C., and is fluent in English, Albanian and Italian.
Among the RMU graduates are 16 students who received scholarships from the Pittsburgh Promise. This year marks the graduation of the first group of Promise students. The scholarships are awarded to Pittsburgh Public School students who meet academic and attendance standards.
The commencement speaker will be Saleem Ghubril, executive director of the Pittsburgh Promise.
On Friday at 4 p.m., Mr. Dell'Omo will hand out diplomas to 229 master's and Ph.D. graduates, including his wife.
Polly Dell'Omo earned a master's degree in instructional leadership. She is a part-time faculty member in the department of mathematics and a professional tutor in the RMU Center for Student Success.
The keynote speaker at the graduate ceremony is Barbara McNees, president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and a member of the RMU Board of Trustees.
Here's a roundup of other West commencements:
A total of 315 students will graduate at 6 p.m. next Thursday in the Athletics and Events Center on the Center campus.
Nursing graduate Nicole Krugh is receiving her degree while dealing with a devastating family tragedy. In January, her sister, Taylor Elizabeth Donnadio, 16, committed suicide by stepping in front of a train in Beaver Falls.
While returning to school, Ms. Krugh, 32, a wife and mother of two children, launched a suicide awareness Web page in honor of her sister, who was an honor student and an athlete. Ms. Krugh hopes to create a heightened awareness about teen depression and suicide.
The keynote speaker at commencement is Cathy Paich, a manager in the Healthcare Advisory Services practice of Ernst & Young LLP.
Ms. Paich "is a proud CCBC alumnus who received her Associates [degree] in Applied Sciences in 1978," says a news release from the college. Fresh out of school with that degree, her first job was as a medical laboratory tech at St. Francis Central and Pittsburgh.
She later earned a bachelor's degree in health care administration from Point Park University in Pittsburgh.
"With over 30 years experience in the health care industry, Ms. Paich represents the vision, dedication and creativity it takes to be a successful professional in today's fast paced, ever-changing and often unpredictable economic market," the news release says.
"Today her story offers encouragement, hope and challenge to all students starting on their career path."
The first ceremony will be at 10 a.m. Saturday for undergraduates at Reeves Field -- weather permitting. The ceremony will move into Metheny Field House if weather is inclement. The ceremony will feature 308 traditional undergraduates.
Graduate students and adult education candidates will receive diplomas at 4 p.m. Saturday in Metheny Field House. There will be 131 adult degree completions and 99 graduate degrees.
Five people are traveling from Nigeria to Beaver Falls to see Serumun "Se Se" Ubwa receive her degree. Her father, mother, sister and two brothers from Nigeria will be joined by two sets of aunts and uncles from Missouri and New Jersey.
For the undergraduates, the commencement speaker will be Steven Garber, principal of the Washington Institute of Faith, Vocation and Culture. His topic is "Singing Songs That the Whole World Can Hear: On Vocation and the Common Good."
The speaker for grad students and adult education is Mitchel Nickols, senior pastor of the Bibleway Christian Fellowship Church in New Kensington.
Alumnus Julian E. Gray, certified elder law attorney, will be the commencement speaker at 7 p.m. Friday in the Student Union Building on campus in Center. There are 58 graduates.
Mr. Gray started his academic career at the Beaver campus and received his bachelor's degree in pre-law from Penn State University Park in 1991. He received his law degree from Duquesne University in 1994.
He is the founder and managing attorney of Julian Gray Associates, with offices in Moon and Upper St. Clair. Mr. Gray is one of only nine Certified Elder Care Attorneys in Allegheny County. Those attorneys help clients with Medicaid planning, veterans' benefits, tax issues and estate planning.
Commencement for 42 graduates of the Beckley, W.Va.-based university will be at 7 p.m. May 15 in Central Valley High School in Center.
The university has a branch campus on the grounds of CCBC.
The graduates include Debbie Bennett, who is student of the year.
Ms. Bennett, who is married and the mother of three children, earned her first degree in 1985 -- an associate degree in accounting from West Virginia Northern Community College.
In 2010, after earning a Bachelor of Science of Organizational Leadership degree from Mountain State University, New Martinsville campus, she began working with the MSU staff in Beaver County, coordinating programs at the Center and West Virginia campuses for the master's program in strategic leadership.
Ms. Bennett is active in the community in Wetzel County, W.Va. She was the Wetzel County Chamber of Commerce Employee of the Year in 2011. She is the office administrator for the New Martinsville Campus of West Virginia Northern Community College.
At the commencement ceremony, MSU Interim President Richard E. Sours will give an introduction and welcome to the graduates.
Linda Wilson Fuoco: email@example.com or 412-722-0087. First Published May 3, 2012 5:15 AM