2017 Commencement Speech

Class of 2017

President McRobbie, Trustees, honored guests, family, and friends, it is an honor and a privilege to introduce you to the 643 members of the Class of 2017.  The students represent 29 Indiana counties, 11 states, and 12 different countries.  We are excited to recognize our first graduates from our new hospitality and tourism degree program.

As you will hear today, our students have come from very different backgrounds with very different goals and very different stories. But, what I have noticed, is that each and every one of them brought to campus an adventurous, determined spirit.  They saw our campus as a place of tremendous opportunity and hope to pursue a better life. The faculty and staff, in turn, made a commitment to each student that they would support them in their journey no matter what path it would take.  At IU Kokomo we are grounded on the principle that every student matters here.

So every hour, every day, students from all walks of life engaged in the same critical work with faculty – learning and discovering, turning information into action and tangible change, so when they leave us today we know they are prepared to make a difference in this region.

Graduates, as I look at each and every one of you, I am inspired by your personal stories and your successful journeys.  I wish I had time today to share everyone’s story, but I know the few stories that I will share; will embody many of you.

Keeana Walton will you please stand. Keeana enrolled at IU Kokomo and joined our newly-formed women’s volleyball team.  She was considered an “underdog” for playing time when she first started, but she worked hard, became a very successful player and helped lead the team to two conference championships and a trip to the national tournament.

This first-generation college student discovered that being part of a team was especially important as it gave her a sense of security as she embarked on unfamiliar territory. And in the unfamiliar culture of college.

Will all of our graduates who are the first in their families to graduate with a college degree… please stand.

Some students are faced with many obstacles during their higher education journey.

Jessica Gordon is no exception – Jessica will you please stand?

In a five-day period in August 2016, her boyfriend of 7 years passed away unexpectedly, and she lost her home, most of her belongings, and her car to the tornado that struck Kokomo.

Nobody would have blamed her if she had taken time away from her studies at IU Kokomo, or even dropped out altogether, because of those tragedies.

But Jessica refused to let life get her down — in fact, it made her more determined than ever to graduate on time. She is earning a Bachelor of General Studies degree.

Other students have used this opportunity to take them down a different path in life.

As a crew chief for the U.S. Air Force Reserves, Julia Person is responsible for maintaining a KC-135 aircraft,   Julia will you please stand?

After graduation, she can commission as an officer in the reserves, which leads to more opportunities. Julia also plans to continue her education in the future, earning a Master of Library Science. Her goal is to be a historian, in the military or with the federal government. Her dream job is to be an archivist.

Julia says, “I couldn’t do any of the things I want to do without my degree.” 

Tom Cassidy is excited to be graduating from college at 50 years old.   He played football and baseball in high school, served a four-year term in the U.S. Navy, and even played semi-pro football for three seasons before taking a job as a machinist. Although he was making good money in his field he never felt content and believed he had settled for a job instead of making the effort to pursue a career. When he broke his leg in a four-wheeler accident in 2009 he was told he might not be able to continue in his current position and knew it was time for a change. He enrolled at Ivy Tech Community College and then at IU Kokomo, majoring in Communication. He is graduating with a degree he is proud of and experiences that have prepared him for a career in journalism. Tom wants to encourage students that it’s never too late to go to college. “School was something I ran away from for years. It scared me because I didn’t believe in myself,” he said. “You can’t let people say you can’t do stuff. It’s all in believing in your goals.”

I would like to recognize all of our graduates who have served in the armed forces. Will you please stand for our recognition?

Most college students aspire to complete their degree in four years. However, we always see a few overachievers… like Fredderick Matthes, will you please stand, who flew through college at lightning speed, completing his business degree in 3 years. This Honors Program student averaged 5 to 6 classes per semester and added summer courses to his schedule. He said his ability to achieve this was supported by an outstanding faculty and staff.

Then there’s Hannah High, who took her cross country running so seriously she hit the ground running for success in the classroom as well. She is crossing the finish line with a degree in accounting in 3 and a half years… a personal record.  

We also have more students this year that pushed hard to complete their degrees in 4 years or less.  If you finished your degree in 4 years or less would you please rise?

Our students never cease to amaze me with their energy and desire to make a difference through leadership and involvement – even on the national level.

Tyler Lucas, will you please stand, Tyler is a member of the cross country team, and this past year he served as the chair of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics student advocacy board – an opportunity to represent all NAIA athletes across the country.

I know many of you have taken on leadership roles in various capacities during your time on campus- President of a club, editor of our newspaper, etc.   Would you please stand so we can recognize you?

We have many international students who are graduating today.

They come from 12 different countries, and we have many of our domestic students who have traveled and studied overseas during their tenure at IUK.

Flavio Zampilli, from Italy, is graduating today with a degree in Medical Imaging Technology. Flavio will you please stand?  After growing up in Rome, then living in Sydney, Australia, and New York City, moving to Kokomo was a bit of a culture shock. “I’m still looking for skyscrapers,” he jokes but said he found the right place at IU Kokomo to enhance his professional skills and the right faculty to lead the way.  Will all of our international students who are graduating today, please stand for our recognition.

IU Kokomo also has a vibrant international travel program. Harlee Phillips, will you please stand, She had the amazing opportunity to study in Beijing, China, for one full school year – an experience that she says changed her life forever. As a future nurse, Harlee says her international travel has made her more confident and improved her communication skills.

All students who traveled internationally while a student here… will you please stand?

IU Kokomo is also a stepping stone to many more dreams and goals. This fall several students will enter graduate school. Justin Murray will you please stand, a mathematics major, will be entering graduate school at Ball State University with an assistantship this fall to earn a master’s in mathematics; Heidi Hendryx, will you please stand, will be entering the physician’s assistant master’s program at IUPUI; Shawn Gabriel, will you please stand, a nursing graduate, will be attending the IU Medical School; Cheryl Ferwerda, will you please stand, has been accepted to IU Kokomo’s Master of Public Management program; and Madison Heflin, will you please stand, is entering a Doctor of Osteopathic School in Kentucky.

I know there are many more students headed to graduate or professional schools, will you please stand too?

Still, other students will head to work when they graduate in the career of their dreams.  Christa Shephar, will you please stand, Christa is graduating with a Bachelor's in English and a minor in writing. She has been the managing editor of our campus journal for the past three semesters.  She has accepted a position to work as a content developer/editor for a company called GP Strategies following graduation and hopes it is a stepping stone toward a fruitful career in editing.  Will all the students who have a job ready upon graduation please stand with her?

As I stated earlier, I wish I could share more stories with all of you because you would continue to be impressed.  Today, our graduates will receive an Indiana University diploma.  As you can see, all of our students have worked hard to earn this prestigious degree that commands respect and instills pride.

Graduates, on behalf of all of us, we couldn’t be more proud.  Best wishes to you, Class of 2017.