"Pay attention to the ideas in your heart," said Dresser, who has published 17 plays, some of which have been produced on and off Broadway and in the nation's leading regional theaters. He is known locally for the popularity of his plays at Shepherdstown's Contemporary American Theater Festival over the years.
Dresser told the graduates the global economy is "profoundly different than it was last year." Some might think it's a "rotten time to graduate, but everything is up for grabs. A lot of things need fixing and there are a lot of people who need help. We need you, your talent, energy and optimism."
Dresser warned them against making safe choices.
"It's the riskiest thing you can do," he said. "There are no safe choices."
The 2009 President's Award went to Erwin and Carol Asam and their sons, David and Christian, for service to the university and the community.
The Asam family owns the Bavarian Inn complex outside Shepherdstown. Erwin and Carol bought the property in 1977 and built it up to where it is today. The inn offers restaurant accommodations for 300 diners and 72 hotel rooms. Their sons manage the business today.
Although Joan E. Wynkoop received her degree Saturday, she graduated in December. Her degree in elementary education prepared her for a job teaching first grade at Page Jackson Elementary School in Charles Town, W.Va., a position she has held since January.
"I made the right choice," she said of her Shepherd education.
Maria Theresa Jean Arrington of Mount Airy, Md., hopes she is as fortunate as Wynkoop.
Arrington was in line waiting to walk across the stage for her degree in music education.
Arrington, who graduated magna cum laude, said she has applied to a half-dozen public schools in Maryland for a job.
A flute player, she's facing a tough job market as public schools cut music programs, she said.
"The music department here is wonderful," she said. "It prepared me so well for what I want to do. I just hope I'll be able to do it."
Leslie Jane Carter, who graduated summa cum laude with a regent's degree, echoed Arrington's thoughts on the labor market.
Carter said the theme song for 2009 should be "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"