PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — The commencement speaker for West Virginia University at Parkersburg’s Saturday ceremony in Wood County will draw on her more than eight decades of life experience for her address to her fellow Class of 2019 graduates.

“I’m 83. I raised five children by myself. I know all about good times. I know all about hard times,” said Sharon O’Neill from Parkersburg.

Courtesy photo

Sharon O’Neill

“You don’t have to be old to have gone through hard times.”

That will be part of her message during WVU-Parkersburg’s 48th Spring Commencement.

“I was very humbled by being asked to be the speaker — very humbled — and I prayed about it and then I thought, ‘Well, perhaps it may help someone else,'” she told MetroNews.

O’Neill was making history by graduating with a Regents Bachelor Arts with an emphasis on history as the eldest community and technical college graduate in West Virginia since the start of the state Community and Technical College System in 2004.

This fall, O’Neill plans to return to WVU-P to begin work on her associate degree in criminal justice.

“I don’t think you should ever stop learning,” she told MetroNews.

The path to her Regents Bachelor of Arts started in 2009 as a part-time student.

A year earlier, she had retired from the Bureau of Fiscal Service where she had worked for 34 years. Prior to that, from 1970 to 1974, she was a secretary for the Wood County Board of Education.

“I’ve had to withdraw a couple of times (from WVU-P) due to illness, due to moving to another state and back and so here I am,” O’Neill said.

“It’s always been my goal (to graduate). It wasn’t a ‘bucket list’ thing. This was my goal.”

She spoke with MetroNews during a call that included Chris Gilmer, president of WVU-P, who described O’Neill as a “great inspiration.”

“During her whole program here, she hasn’t just been a high-achieving academic student,” Gilmer said of O’Neill. “She’s a senator on our student government association and one of the most active students that we have on our campus as well.”

Saturday’s ceremony was scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m. at WVU-P’s College Activities Center with more than 120 students expected to attend.

In all, WVU at Parkersburg will award 350 certificate, associate and bachelor’s degrees to 265 students this spring.

“As they go forward into the next chapter, as they commence this next chapter of their lives, they can conquer anything they have to,” O’Neill said of her advice to the others in the Class of 2019.

“No one knows what the future will bring. You know, the world has changed in my 83 years, who knows how the world will change next?”