WESB/WBRR News Director
Even in today’s challenging times, the 286 people who got their diplomas from the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford have at least one big thing going for them: The power of Pitt.
That was one of the messages delivered by commencement speaker Dave Wannstedt, head coach of the University of Pittsburgh football team.
“Do not let (the challenging times), in any way, discourage you or dampen your enthusiasm for what you want or what you can accomplish,” Wannstedt told the graduates. “There’s a reason people from this university have helped change the world in so many positive ways. That’s the power of Pitt. And you now own that power.”
He said he realizes the graduates are living with quite a bit of uncertainty now, just as he was when he graduated from Pitt in 1974.
He was drafted into the NFL by the Green Bay Packers, but didn’t know how long a pro football career would last. He knew he wanted to be a coach. He applied to graduate school because he thought he wanted to be a school principal. He event applied to take a test with the FBI because he thought that might be his calling.
“One thing I was certain of, no matter where I went or what I did,” he said. “My degree from Pitt would make a difference and help me stand out in the crowd.”
“As a Pitt graduate you are joined with an incredible distinguished group of alumni that stretches all over the world,” he said.
Before the commencement exercises, while speaking with the media, Wannstedt said a degree from Pitt-Bradford, Pitt-Greensburg or any of the other regional campuses should not be thought of in any other way than a degree from the University of Pittsburgh.
“I would hope that would be the attitude of the graduates today,” he said. “That’s the reality.”
During his address, he also talked about the winning attitude of Pitt graduates, which leads them to accomplish greatness even in challenging times. He said if people set their dreams and goals aside during challenging times some of the greatest accomplishments in the world would have never happened.
He used the university’s Cathedral of Learning as an example, saying that the idea was hatched during the Great Depression. At 42 stories and 535 feet tall, the Cathedral of Learning is the second-tallest education building in the world. It was dedicated in 1937.
“A tough road leads to greatness,” Wannstedt said.
Turning to football to make his point about greatness and perseverance, Wannstedt talked about 2007 when Pitt was playing West Virginia, the number one team in the country.
The Panthers were 28-point underdogs and commentators were saying, “The only way Pitt can win is if West Virginia doesn’t show up.”
He said there was a lot of rowdiness from the fans in Morgantown as the Pitt buses pulled up, with “a lot of sign language” aimed at them. A bottle hit the bus and shattered.
At that point, LeSean McCoy, who was a freshman at the time, stood up and said, “This is going to be just like in the movies.”
Pitt won 13-9 in “the greatest upset in university football history,” Wannstedt said.
Prior to the commencement exercises, Wannstedt also talked about the pride he has in his team’s graduation rate.
“One of the motivating things for me coaching at Pitt is to make a difference in the lives of these young men,” he said, adding that not every player is going to make it to the NFL. “That’s not reality. But the one thing that can be reality is that they can graduate, get a degree and have a better life.”
He said of the 20 seniors on this year’s team, 16 should have their degrees by August. Last year, 13 of 14 graduated. The national average for football players graduating is 60 percent.
Also Sunday, Dr. Steven Hardin, vice president and dean of academic affairs, asked the audience to remember Alissa Cameron, who would have been a member of the Class of 2010. Cameron died after being hit by a vehicle in December of 2007.
Hardin talked about Alissa before awarding her twin sister, Leanna Cameron, with her diploma.
Also during Sunday’s commencement exercises, the Presidential Medal of Distinction was awarded to Thomas R. Bromeley.
Bromeley said he was humbled by the honor and said, “so many others have done so much more.”
“The real heroes of the revolution,” he said are J.B. Fisher, Tom McDowell, Dr. Donald Swarts, Henry Satterwhite, Dr. Robert Bromeley.
“Those are the men who looked over a field and a grass landing strip for small planes, some storefront classrooms, the Emery Hotel – and they saw not a field and a landing strip and some downtown buildings. But instead, they saw this beautiful crown jewel of the regional campuses of the University of Pittsburgh with its top flight faculty, and an increasingly high quality student body, many of whom will lead our next generation.”
Also Sunday, Dr. Jill Slike Owens was the recipient of the first-ever Pitt-Bradford Alumni Association Award of Distinction.
Besides the volunteer work Owens does locally, she has led medical mission trips to the Dominican Republic and Haiti for more than 10 years.
Pictured, Wannstedt; Ben Babcox walks toward the stage to get his diploma; University President Dr. Livingston Alexander presents Bromeley with the Medal of Distinction as President Emeritus Dick McDowell, Owens and Wannstedt look on.