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Graduation 2021

This year our department graduation ceremony was virtual, we had over 50 graduating majors and their families attend. The Chair of the department, Michael Deschenes, gave an opening speech and then our Major of the Year, Derin Kokuuslu, gave his. Below is his speech. Then Prof. Deschenes honored Prof. Raymond McCoy who is retiring. Prof. Deschenes then introduced our faculty and they individually got to give their well wishes to the graduating students. The faculty then split up into breakout rooms to meet with graduates and their families. On Saturday night there was the commencement for our department at Zable Stadium; where the Chair, Michael Deschenes, read the graduating major’s names and Prof. Ashleigh Queen handed out the diplomas. This year there were 6 Commencement ceremonies spread over the weekend. Here is the link to ours: 

Derin Kokuuslu's Major of the Year Speech

Derin KokuusluThank you, Dr. Deschenes. It’s wonderful to see students, family, and faculty here, and it’s a privilege to be speaking to you all. First, I would like to say congratulations to the graduating class of 2021! This zoom and tomorrow’s ceremony signify a massive step in the journey of our lives. And although it may be hard to fully grasp the amount of effort it has taken to get to this point, let me remind you that it was no easy task. We have persevered though countless caffeinated nights in Swem, some brutal final exam weeks, and of course, a pandemic, which for over a year has greatly disturbed our way of life at best, and at worst has struck us with personal loss. 

But we, the students, the families, and the faculty, have adapted to what life has thrown at us. We persisted through an emergency lockdown, which suddenly altered how we lived, learned, and worked. We persisted through gradual re-openings, finding new norms in uncertain and unfamiliar times. And now, we continue to persist, perhaps with a newfound appreciation for the difficult times we shared together, despite being apart. As I reflected on the challenges of the past year, I was amazing by the degree to which my fellow graduates truly embodied this persistence. They are incredibly deserving to be graduating tomorrow, but before I speak more to the achievement my classmates, I want to take this opportunity to recognize those who have helped us along the way. 

To the faculty of the Kinesiology and Health Sciences department, thank you. What initially struck me about the faculty is their collective compassion towards their students. As a freshman, I remember sticking around after a class of Motor Learning to ask Dr. Kohl a question. And although I don’t remember what I asked exactly, I’m sure it was something trivial. After a little while, we were joined by Dr. McCoy, who, ten minutes later, would be teaching a class in the same room. So, there we were, two tenured professors who are well respected in their fields, and one naïve freshman student, all discussing what was probably a pretty silly question, as if we were all equals. That was the first time I realized that the professors in our department truly treat their students with kindness and respect. 

And after four years, I have yet to find a single faculty member in our department that fails to do the same. When you walk into Adair Hall, you’ll notice not only the sound of salsa music that somehow resonates throughout every room in the building You will notice a pleasant greeting from Chris Wilson at the front office, who establishes a sense of community that is evident across the entire department. In the same building, during non-pandemic conditions, you can find each professor from our department in their offices. In these offices are where I and many students have built meaningful relationships with our faculty, and specifically, I was lucky enough to find mentorship in Dr. Burnet. Her constant support of my development has modeled dedication and compassion that I hope to be able to pay forward one day. 

I would also like to acknowledge Dr. McCoy, who will be retiring after decades of service to this department. It always amused me how he was so consistently the automatic point of reference whenever students or faculty members had a question regarding biomechanics or study design. I’m pretty sure Dr. Burnet has him on speed dial. And as certain as I am that we’ll miss having his expert opinion, his contribution goes far beyond his experience and extensive CV. His courses in human anatomy and biomechanics were always engaging and often encouraged students to stand up and perform some strange movements to facilitate a deeper understanding of the human body. However, Dr. McCoy’s impact is not measured by what he made students do or learn, but more so about how he made them feel. Through his positivity and passion for teaching, he has made thousands of students feel uplifted and excited to learn. He has set a high standard of educating that is matched across the entire of Kinesiology and Health Sciences department. So again, thank you Dr. McCoy and all the faculty in our department. 

Next, I would like to recognize the families of our graduating class. Parents, you are likely wondering how we got to this point so quickly. I’m sure it seems like just yesterday that you were helping your bright-eyed freshman move into their dorms, as you pondered how they would handle being out here on their own. But they never really were alone. Although you may have been physically separated for years, some by hundreds or even thousands of miles, let me remind you that you’ve been with them the entire time. 

Whether you’ve demonstrated support by helping your student on move-in day, probably sweating buckets in the process, or if your support has simply been through availability for a phone call after a rough week of exams, your sacrifices did not go unnoticed. Today is an accomplishment, not only for the graduates, but for you, because getting to this point has been a team effort. Please know that this achievement would not have been possible without your support.

Finally, to my fellow classmates. We did it! You can finally sleep easy knowing that Dr. Harris will never get the opportunity to torture you with a VO2 max test ever again. But in all seriousness, you deserve praise for your determination over the last several years. College is a great challenge, for many of us the greatest challenge of our lives thus far. And, as it would seem, our commencement is the reward for our endeavors over the past four years. But as I reflected on that, it became more evident to me that this weekend is not the reward. Sure, commencement is important and deserves celebration, but the true reward lies in the experiences we’ve shared along the way.

 It was the conversations I’ve shared that rewarded me with perspective to appreciate day-to-day moments, and to live in the present. It was the everyday excellence of my classmates that rewarded me with inspiration and encouraged academic and personal growth. And it was the late-night study groups that rewarded me with sincere friendships; friendships that I know will last a lifetime.

Such experiences over the last four years have led to the development of a community that I will forever cherish. Ironically, just as the pandemic seems to be winding down, allowing for members of our community to reconnect, we will be leaving each other. But our commencement does not represent the end of this community, only a new chapter of our lives. Despite our time at William & Mary coming to an end, our relationships, and lessons we’ve learned here will stay with us wherever we go.