If you get an associate degree at Fairmont State University and your last name begins with “Y,” that puts you in the back row of about 420 students getting degrees Saturday.

That meant that Rebecca F. Yeater of New Martinsville, who has been deaf from birth, could not see the two alternating women who translated Saturday’s entire ceremony into American Sign Language.

So Janelle St. Martin of Bridgeport sat with Yeater and interpreted the day’s message of taking what students had learned at Fairmont State and looking forward.

“It’s too far,” Yeater said through St. Martin. “I followed the (seating) order.”

Yeater, who got a two-year degree in graphic arts, hopes to stay in West Virginia, she said. “It depends on the job.”

She liked a speech by JoAnn Lough, a former Fairmont State faculty member who was given a Doctor of Fine Arts degree during the two-hour ceremony.

Lough referred to her parents during her acceptance remarks, saying, “This would be pleasing to them that JoAnn got a degree from Fairmont State — not Fairmont State College but Fairmont State University.”

Graduates also heard from the commencement speaker, state Sen. Roman W. Prezioso Jr., who told impending graduates that he was in their shoes on the same campus 35 years ago.

“Much has changed since then,” Prezioso said. “Today, the world is much more unpredictable. The competition for jobs is much greater and convergence of technology has changed the world forever.”

Students gave an enthusiastic response to Howard Hunte, the senior class representative, who told how he and his family immigrated from Caracas, Venezuela, and how he started at Fairmont State at the same time as his brother. He expressed his love for the school by comparing the experience to a box of chocolates.

“There are a lot of flavors, and it’s up to you to decide what to take,” he said.

After the ceremony, Derwin Hampton, who had just gotten a bachelor’s degree in English, also had high praise for Fairmont State.

“The faculty looked upon students as part of their own and were very inclusive,” he said. “I attended UNO (the University of New Orleans) before this, and at a large college, you didn’t get that.”

A New Orleans native, Hampton moved to the area when his wife got a job in Morgantown. But he specifically chose Fairmont State over West Virginia University because he wanted to go to a smaller school. He now will begin pursuing his Ph.D. at WVU.

“I always wanted to take this as far as it could go,” he said.

Toward the end of the ceremony, Fairmont State President Daniel J. Bradley had the graduating PROMISE Scholars stand and noted that this was the first year that the four-year PROMISE Scholars were graduating.

“The hope is, in 20 years or so, these will be the leaders of West Virginia,” he said.

Students then sang the alma mater, which St. Martin interpreted for Yeater. During her classes at Fairmont State, Yeater had an interpreter provided for her by the school, as part of the American with Disabilities Act of 1990, St. Martin said.

One of the interpreters in the front of the auditorium specifically spelled out the name of each person who received a diploma on Saturday, which can lead to fatigue in the hands and shoulders, St. Martin said.

“It’s pretty exhausting.”

St. Martin already knew the words to Fairmont State’s alma mater from her previous work with the school’s graduating students. However, today, she will be interpreting at commencement ceremonies at WVU, where she does not know the alma mater.

“Hopefully, they’ll give me a copy,” she said.

E-mail Mary Wade Burnside at mwburnside@timeswv.com.

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