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MSU to celebrate final commencement this week

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Nearly 180 students will march in Mountain State University's final commencement exercises Dec. 19 in the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.

In June, the Higher Learning Commission revoked the private Beckley-based school's accreditation because of leadership, organizational and integrity issues. The University of Charleston took over Mountain State's campuses in Beckley and Martinsburg so students can complete their degrees. Numerous students have filed lawsuits against the university, its board and past president Charles Polk alleging the university mislead students. Some lawsuits allege racketeering on the part of the university and its previous leaders.

In total, MSU will confer 658 degrees to 624 students this month.

"Everyone at Mountain State University is proud of this year's graduates," MSU's Interim President Richard E. Sours said in a news release. "They have persevered under stressful conditions and have continued to excel. Now they have achieved their goals and will move on to exciting and rewarding careers. This is the reason our faculty and staff continue to work hard, and we all take great satisfaction in the achievements of these graduates." 

Not all of the graduates will be able to attend this week's ceremonies. However valedictorian Christopher Freeman of Southport, N.C., said he plans to drive to Beckley to celebrate his graduation.

"It's a great honor to be chosen to serve as valedictorian," Freeman said in the news release. "I'm very proud that I was selected." 

Freeman, the senior captain and assistant director of public safety at Bald Head Island, N.C., will receive his Bachelor of Science degree in organizational leadership, with a concentration in criminal justice administration.

His message for his fellow graduates? "The degree you've earned will give you a leg up in your career. Use it to become a role model for those you work with. Make a difference." 

Jerry Ice, chairman of the MSU board of trustees said he knows this year has been a challenge for students and faculty alike, "but remember to follow your vision, follow your dreams." 

Mountain State University was founded as Beckley College in 1933; the 2013-14 academic year would have marked the university's 80th year.

At its peak, the university enrolled more than 8,200 students annually, effectively blending undergraduates (85 percent) and graduate students (15 percent), 66 percent women and 34 percent men, the majority of them non-traditional students whose median age in 2009-10 was 34. Many were the first from their families to attend college; many sought to complete degrees interrupted by the circumstances of life. Many sought to change professions, others to advance existing careers. 

In the health sciences, Mountain State University graduated more than 2,200 undergraduate nurses and 185 graduate nurses. As recently as two years ago, MSU produced a higher percentage of nursing graduates than any other public or private college or university in West Virginia. 

Other programs enjoyed similar success: 542 Physician Assistant graduates; 187 graduates from the Occupational Therapy Assistant program; 275 from the Physical Therapy Assistant program; 539 from the Diagnostic Medical Sonography program.