A little more than 330 students capped off four years of achievement and were nudged out into the real world Saturday morning as Washington & Jefferson College held its 214th annual commencement ceremony.
Most of the graduates will be facing their share of uncertainties, particularly if they haven’t already landed a job or signed on for post-graduate education. Addressing these graduation pressures and anxieties was Pittsburgh Steelers’ longtime backup quarterback Charlie Batch, whose tenure in the Black and Gold recently ended following the Steelers’ drafting University of Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones last month.
Displaying two Super Bowl rings – and getting an appreciative round of applause and cheers from the audience gathered under a tent set up next to W&J’s Olin Fine Arts Center – Batch emphasized his own need for preparedness even in his role as a reserve quarterback for the Steelers.
“I challenge you to expect your best,” said Batch. “Go out there and tell them you are making a difference.”
Of the roughly 330 students awarded degrees, one was notably absent – Tim McNerney, the W&J student who was beaten to death while walking home from a downtown Washington bar last October. The crime remains unsolved. A degree was awarded posthumously to McNerney, and Batch alluded to the W&J football player’s death when he spoke of his own sister’s killing, after she was caught in the middle of a gang crossfire in Batch’s native Homestead in February 1996.
“At that moment,” Batch said, “I said to myself, ‘You need to make a change.’”
Batch was awarded an honorary degree in public service, along with James Rohr, the executive chairman of PNC Financial Services Group. Honorary degrees were also given to Bernard Harris, the first African American to walk in space when he was an astronaut aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1995; and Serena Fujita, a rabbi and Bucknell University’s first full-time Jewish chaplain.
California University of Pennsylvania also held commencement ceremonies Saturday. Waynesburg University’s commencement is scheduled for today.