West Liberty University held its Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies commencement at 6 p.m., Friday, June 15, in Kelly Theatre and welcomed U.S. Rep. David B. McKinley (R-W.Va.) to the ceremony as keynote speaker.
Program Director William Childers, EdD, MS, PA-C, also welcomed guests and Congressman McKinley as he spoke briefly about the program, its faculty and the students.
“We are honored that Congressman McKinley took time out of his busy schedule to be with us,” said President Stephen Greiner in his remarks. “I congratulate the Class of 2018. This is the first class that I saw admitted after my arrival a few years ago, and I’m sure that there will be no finer class than this first group of students that I met. I wish you well in your professions and future.”
“We are fortunate that students from around the region and the country choose WLU to guide their journey towards becoming an integral part of the health-care team, providing empathetic and competent care to the patients they serve in the local area and beyond,” Childers said.
McKinley congratulated the new PAs and shared with the graduates and guests his memory of an impressive sermon he heard once at St. Matthews Church in Wheeling that highlighted the songs in each individual just waiting to be sung.
“I challenge you all to achieve your goal and reach your potential. To fulfill the American dream and overcome obstacles along the way to singing your song, the song that is in each of us,” McKinley said. He went on to mention the debate about health care that he participates in daily in Congress.
“I applaud you for taking on this career. PAs are a critical part of healthcare and are needed, especially in rural areas. You will help our country and state ensure that families have access to good health care. I challenge you to stay in West Virginia,” he added. “I see songs ready to burst out of you. Our nation will be stronger because of you.”
McKinley has represented the 1st Congressional District since 2011 and is a resident of Wheeling. He is a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, where he is able to influence legislation on energy, health care and technology.
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Graduate student speaker Jillian Laslo of Shadyside also offered reflections on her experience in the PA program. Laslo is the president of the West Liberty University Physician Assistant student society and also earned her bachelor’s in pre-medicine at WLU in 2016.
She described the uncertainties that her classmates and she had when they began the rigorous program two years ago.
“But what we didn’t know was how much PA school would change us to be better versions of ourselves. We didn’t know just how awesome our future careers will be or what we were actually capable of,” she explained.
She ended by stating that the one certainty she has is “that our class will be successful in wherever life takes us.”
After passing her board exams and receiving her official license, Laslo will be working at Wheeling Hospital as a surgical PA for Dr. Howard Shackelford, who also is the medical director of the WLU physician assistant program.
WLU Provost Dr. Brian Crawford then presented the candidates and President Stephen Greiner conferred the degrees. Afterward, all graduates recited the PA professional oath.
The Class of 2018 and their hometowns include: Caitlyn Asbury, New Cumberland, W.Va.; Brandon Bolduc, Weirton; Jon-Michael Brunner, Wheeling; Daniel Burns, Wheeling; Emily Butler, Washington, W.Va.; Chelsea Camerlengo, Weirton; Autumn Cunningham, Georgetown, Pa.; Chad Eckard, Greenville, Pa.; Julia Gotthardt, Southbury, Conn.; Lauren Healy, Bloomington, Ind.; Ryan Killpack, Firth, Idaho; Jillian Laslo, Shadyside; Courtney Pyeritz, Pittsburgh; Kimberly Rinard, Wardensville, W.Va.; Laura Waialae, Wheeling; and Ceirra Zeigler, New Cumberland.
The WLU PA program also presents Pi Alpha Honors during its commencement ceremony. Pi Alpha is the national honor society for both PA students and graduates. Membership indicates academic achievement, community service and leadership.
Alumna Kristen Harris, who is employed by Dr. Jamie Etzel Internal Medicine in Glen Dale, received the honor, along with Jillian Laslo. Professors Jennifer Childers and Sarah Brammer presented the two PAs with their Pi Alpha award.