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OUE graduates ready to face challenge

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK The graduating class at Ohio University Eastern has borne up under the COVID-19 pandemic and prepared Thursday to head out into their fields.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The 2021 graduates of Ohio University Eastern left school with a message of encouragement and lessons in adaptability gained during the coronavirus pandemic.

Angie Woods, executive director of the Augusta Levy Learning Center in Wheeling and a 2007 graduate of OUE, was the keynote speaker for the commencement ceremony Thursday.

She said graduates will face challenges, but the theme of her talk was “not ‘no,’ but ‘how?'”

“Don’t limit yourself and let people tell you, ‘No, it can’t be done,’ but think, ‘How can it be done?’ and ‘How can I accomplish it?’ is pretty much my overall message,” she said. “I was the first in my family to go to a four-year college, and it really didn’t seem possible because I was raised by a single mom.”

She emphasized determination.

“I’m completely honored to be chosen, because I remember sitting at high school graduations and college graduations and seeing the keynote speaker,” she said. “‘Will I accomplish something like that?”

Woods carries this determination and adaptability into her teaching children with autism — and when the learning center had a fire in 2018, six months after she had been promoted to executive director.

“We completely lost our building. Our kids had no space to learn, and we could’ve completely shut the doors … but again we just went back to the drawing board,” she said. “Our kids need this service, so how are we going to make sure they get the services that they need? So we figured out a plan to provide services in the home.”

She said the COVID-19 pandemic struck as the center was getting back on its feet with a new facility. The doors shut for 13 weeks.

“Faced with another challenge, we figured out how to provide telehealth care,” she said.

OUE Dean David Rohall said about 30 graduates were present, and another 15 were not. The graduating class is slightly smaller than usual, but he is proud of the graduates and expects many more.

“People are very excited. They’re very happy to be here. COVID has not brought down the spirit of our students in any way,” Rohall said. “COVID has given us an opportunity to search inside and see what we’re capable of, and these students clearly show that they’re capable of doing a lot.”

Many graduates studied the fields of education, physical therapy and social work and spoke about their final year and how the pandemic impacted their academic careers.

“I’ve been student teaching, and I was lucky enough to be in a classroom. I’m at Shadyside and I love it. We have a couple of students who do Zoom, and that’s tricky. I do not like doing Zoom with my students,” Leah Nau of St. Clairsville, an early childhood education major, said. “It’s been tricky, but I’m here, I’m graduating. I’m thankful no matter what.”

Nau said the pandemic will leave a mark on young children.

“It definitely affects them, because they aren’t able to have the social relationships that they need and the social interactions, because they have to be kept apart from each other. Especially the ones on Zoom — they are not getting the learning experience they need to really blossom. They still can, but it’s not their full potential.”

“It’s been an adjustment with COVID, doing everything remotely and doing an internship partially remotely, but it’s been good overall. We’ve gotten through it,” Jacob Carpenter of Barnesville, a social work major, said. “Issues are being discussed and changes are being made. We’re definitely making headway towards making the right changes to improve things for society.”

“Online wasn’t fun, but I was able to get through it,” Victoria Crow of St. Clairsville said. She is an exercise physiology major.

“It was pretty challenging with the social work program. We’re out in the field for our internship our senior year, so the entire year,” Kristen Carnes of St. Clairsville, a social work student, said. “It was quite an adjustment for all of us. Our professors were great at walking us through any problems we had, as well as the agencies we were with.

“I interned with the juvenile court and a lot of things were done through Zoom,” Carnes said, adding she expects this will be a more common procedure. “I think a lot of things during the pandemic, people have learned and grown from.”

“When this all hit, it ended up being a lot online, which she didn’t like,” Rick Gardner of Graysville said. He is the proud father of graduate Gracie Gardner, who studied education. “She got through that, and it was a lot of stress. … The stress is unreal.”

For her part, Gracie Gardner said COVID-19 hastened incorporating technology into her field.

“We’ve seen how crucial it is in communicating with the students. Now that we’ve done it, I think it needs to stay there. It can really enhance the classroom,” she said, adding that middle school and older students are taking to the changes. “They seem to be handling everything well. They’re definitely resilient students.”

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