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Meet the May 2021 Grads: Deionte Harilla-Gray

Students from the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences will celebrate Commencement on Saturday, May 15 as they graduate from West Virginia University, ready to take on the world.

As Commencement is upon us, several of our Eberly College graduates reflect on their time at WVU and their plans for the future.

Meet May 2021 biology grad Deionte Harilla-Gray.

Name: Deionte Harilla-Gray
Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Major: Biology
Minor: Psychology 

How did you choose your major?

I have always had a love for science and how it can be used to help people. In high school I took three years of biology because I loved it so much. Learning how life works will always be one of my passions.  

Deionte Harilla-Gray

How would you explain your major to an incoming student? What advice would you give them?

Biology is a painting of multiple pictures coming together. As you move forward in your education, the painting will slowly come together. Just when you think the painting is complete, more parts are added to it.

Biology is not a walk in the park. I placed in the lowest math course and had to take two math classes in one semester to catch up. Don't be discouraged! You got to this point in your life because someone believed in you, but most importantly, because you believed in yourself. There will be hard nights, but the outcome is worth it.  

How has your major prepared you for your future career?

My major has taught me to think outside of the box. It continues to teach me to be creative and to always ask questions, even if they do not seem important. Sometimes what you think are the worst questions are the most important questions to be asked.

Biology has helped me become a better studier and organizer as well. It has taught me to the importance of having a plan and executing that plan to the best of my ability even though it may fail. And if nothing else, biology has taught me that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, and when in doubt, the answer is allostery.  

How has your Eberly College education helped you prepare for unexpected circumstances, like the pandemic?

The Eberly College has taught me the importance of research and how it can save the lives of millions. We learn the importance of asking questions and coming up with the plan to figure out the answer to those questions. The pandemic has been hard on so many people. It has affected our lives in more ways than not, but thankfully, we have dedicated scientists, healthcare workers and frontline essential employees working around the clock to save lives. Eberly taught me to trust science even when it fails because someday someone will succeed.  

How have you found resilience during these trying times? What have been your keys to getting by?

My main key to success has been to have a support system and communicate with them. Growing up, my life hasn't been the easiest. However, I am thankful for those hard times. Watching my mom kick butt as a single mother while also raising five kids and providing for us is where I draw my strength. I get my resilience from my baby sister who became a mom at 16 and is one of the best moms I know. My gram and grandfather Leroy have supported me through it all as well as my older siblings. My fraternity brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha have helped me to become a better, more organized student leader. My fellow Black Dub V students have shared resources and strength to cross the finish line. My resilience and my strength come from my support system.  

What are you looking forward to after graduation?

I am looking forward to applying to physician assistant school. This has been a goal of mine for a long time, and the fact that it is here is so cool. I'm a bit nervous, but I know that the Eberly College and all my experiences have prepared me for this point in my life. I’m looking forward to being a WVU alumnus and advocating for future first-generation Black Mountaineers like me. What is life without positive and meaningful change?

How have you changed since your first year at WVU?

Deionte Harilla-Gray in colorguard

It is night and day! I came in as a student who wanted to make the most of his time in college. I joined the Mountaineer Marching Band, Black Student Union, Pre-PA Club, Alpha Phi Alpha and Residence Hall Association, all of which made me a better person. At first, I didn't know my place, but I quickly found my home at WVU. Also, I think I have better fashion sense (*laughs*).

What was your most memorable moment at WVU?

I don't even know where to start because there have been so many. One of my biggest achievements was advocating for change on the Campus and Community Partnerships Committee Action-Oriented Working group assigned by President Gee. It was really cool to bring my concerns and learn about policy and how it affects those who must follow it.

Deionte Harilla-Gray with Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity members in front of Woodburn Hall

My other top two most memorable moments were joining the best fraternity known to man, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., as well as being a member of the Pride of West Virginia: The Mountaineer Marching Band.

What was the hardest (Eberly College) class that you loved? Why?

Organic chemistry. It was a love-hate relationship. However, I really enjoyed drawing the structures of the molecules. I treated it like an art class and did pretty well.  

Do you have a favorite professor or instructor in the Eberly College? What makes them special?

There are so many. Dr. John Navaratnam was a huge part of the reason I stayed determined. He is passionate about his students and always encouraged us to aim for higher goals. He is honestly an amazing person. Dr. Samantha Jusino is also another professor who has made a huge impact on my time at WVU. She is always willing to go the extra mile to help her students. She believes in us even when we don't believe in ourselves. Dr. Susan Raylman is one of the sweetest professors at WVU, and Dr. Dana Huebert Lima challenges her students to think outside of the box. I believe she said she will ask us about allostery at graduation, and I've secretly been rehearsing my response since then.

Deionte Harilla-Gray singing Country Roads on Mountaineer Field with WVU marching band

What will you miss the most about WVU after you graduate?

My friends, my fellow resident assistants and residents. I will miss performing as a part of the marching band with the color guard. I will miss a lot about WVU, but maybe I will get another two years here for graduate school. We shall see.  

We recognize that life is topsy-turvy right now because of the COVID-19 pandemic. How are you planning to celebrate graduation, even in nontraditional ways?

Sing “Country Roads” one last time as an undergrad. What’s cool is I graduate in the same spot where I sang Country Roads for the first time at Monday Night Lights. I plan on celebrating with close family and friends while also following COVID-19 guidelines.