BETHANY - Ralph Baxter is not sure if his future includes service in the U.S. Senate, but he believes the future of 154 new Bethany College graduates can be bright.
"I believe you are graduating at the most dynamic time in the history of humankind," Baxter, chairman and chief executive officer of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, told the graduates Saturday during Bethany's 173rd commencement. "Technology is going to make possible things in your lifetime that once seemed like science fiction."
Following the commencement, Baxter elaborated on these comments.
COMMENCEMENT SPEAKER — Ralph Baxter, chairman and chief executive officer of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, speaks during Bethany College’s Saturday commencement. - Casey Junkins
"Everything about our world is changing, and technology is driving the change," he said. "Now at age 100, my father was born into a world with no electricity or indoor plumbing. Now, he is on Facebook."
In 2002, Baxter brought Orrick's Global Operations Center to Wheeling, which he said is now home to about 350 jobs.
"These are jobs that would not be in Wheeling without the advancements in technology," he continued. "Because of technology, you can now do things in West Virginia that you previously could not."
Now living in the Woodsdale section of Wheeling, Baxter believes his experience as an educator, lawyer and CEO may serve him well if he seeks election as West Virginia's next U.S. senator in 2014.
"Sen. (Jay) Rockefeller is not seeking re-election next year. I don't think any Democrat would have thought about challenging him in a primary," Baxter said. "Now, a Democrat needs to step up to the plate."
Though he did not make a firm commitment to run for the seat next year, Baxter said he will be making an announcement on the matter "relatively soon."
"I want to find a way to give back to West Virginia," he said. "We need strong and effective leadership in Washington, D.C."
Baxter said his parents and ancestors all were born in Wetzel County. His father, Ralph Sr. - a native of Proctor - lives in Clearwater, Fla. His late mother, Edith, was born in Pine Grove.
Baxter has not held public office, but he has been active in public service both in California and West Virginia. In addition to his work with the West Virginia Education Alliance, Baxter serves on the West Virginia Workforce Investment Council and has co-chaired the Governor's 21st Century Jobs Cabinet since 2006.
If Baxter seeks and earns the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate next year, he may find himself in a general election contest with Republican Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, who has already announced her candidacy for the seat.
During the commencement ceremony, Bethany Board of Trustees Chairman Gregory Jordan said "a real innovator has come home to West Virginia" in reference to Baxter previously living in California.
"Ralph Baxter has had a tremendous career in creating jobs and in education," Jordan said.
Sherri Theaker, chairwoman of the college's Education Department, presented Baxter with an honorary degree during the ceremony.
College President Scott Miller acknowledged the accomplishments of the graduates, joining Baxter's theme of changing times.
"The world you enter as you leave college today is clearly not the same as the one that existed when you entered Bethany," Miller said. "Make no mistake - we live in challenging times. Our economy continues to rebound after the worst recession since the 1920s."
Graduate Jessica Zavatchen of Uniontown, Pa., received the 2013 Oreon E. Scott Award, the college's highest award.
Area Bethany graduates include:
Avella: Olivia K. Evans, Carl Dean Cosentino, Katrina Ivana Miller.
Follansbee: Kayla Elysse Cutrone, Alexandria Lynn Fluharty, Katy Jo Romitti.
New Cumberland: Douglass Patrick Murray.
Piney Fork: John Ryan Hajny.
Tiltonsville: Olivia Pavlic.
Weirton: Mari J. J. Kolanko, Kaitlyn Louise Pitchok, Matthew J. Salerno, Tyler James Babinchok, Gerad M. Cervenak, Shawn R. Holmes, Kayla Marie Smuck.
Wellsburg: Tammy Louise Lough, Megan Leigh Stewart.