EDWARDSVILLE - Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Chancellor James T. Minor, PhD, conferred degrees upon 2,228 eligible graduates during spring 2024 commencement exercises, held Friday through Sunday, May 3-5 in the First Community Arena at the Vadalabene Center. The SIUE spring commencement weekend included seven graduation ceremonies, led by Denise Cobb, PhD, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, SIU System President Dan Mahony, PhD and respective deans, beginning at 10 a.m. Friday with the School of Business. The opening commencement ceremony also commemorated Golden Graduates who first crossed the stage as SIUE graduates 50 or more years ago.

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One alumna who returned for the ceremony was Shirley Portwood, PhD, professor emerita and former SIU Board of Trustee. “I got two degrees here at SIUE. I served on the faculty. I served on the Board of Trustees, so SIUE is part of my story,” said Portwood, who holds a bachelor’s and master’s in history from SIUE, '70 and ‘73.

“Growing up, my parents emphasized to all of us--there were six of us--that we would go to college,” said Portwood. “It was when you go to college, not where.”

In contrast to SIUE’s expanding courses and physical campus experienced by the students of early 1970s, some members of the Class of 2024 had to navigate a road to recovery, both personally and academically.

“For many, your transition to college was during the most uncertain time of our lives,” said Minor.

“A pandemic changed the college experience for 14 million students. The headlines at the time read, ‘Fever Checks and Quarantine Dorms: The Fall College Experience’ with a question mark. In the fall of 2020 only 27% of colleges and universities in the country were planning in-person instruction as their primary modality.”

Minor acknowledged the fact that first-year students who enrolled in fall 2020, most likely received notices of cancelled high school graduation ceremonies earlier that spring. Their introduction to college was a mix of socially distanced in-person, hybrid and fully online learning.

“Despite the challenges, all of the uncertainty and any doubts you may have held, you, Class of 2024, are more porous today--not just as graduates but a testament to resilience, persistence and the ability to overcome adversity,” said Minor.

“Masks became a symbol of solidarity--a reminder of your shared responsibility to safeguard your community's help,” said alumnus and School of Pharmacy keynote speaker Jamal Sims, PharmD, EMHA, BCPS, BCSCP, ‘18. Sims shared with the graduates his belief in their commitment. “In the face of adversity, you all refused to be deterred.”

“I was an online student and that was just perfect for me because I was able to be supported by my professors and also able to do schoolwork, and attend baseball games,” said Amber Harrington, who earned her Master of Science in educational administration.

“With online I had memorable experiences such as meeting other educators throughout Illinois and working with them on group projects--even if it was over Zoom.” Harrington was the commencement speaker during the SIUE Graduate School ceremony. She and her husband became teen parents. Her graduation speech encouraged others to rewrite their story versus becoming a statistic.

Harrington, now a mother of four, plans to use her degree to address the long-term effects of the learning deficit due to COVID for elementary school students. “In the district where I'm working, we are implementing new tools and resources and we're actually seeing a lot of growth.”

Harrington added, “I have high hopes for the future. As long as we keep empowering them and giving them the tools they need to be successful, and also giving them high expectations, I believe we’ll surpass these expectations.”

In addition to School of Business, SOP and the Graduate School, this spring’s May commencement conferred degrees upon students in the School of Nursing (SON), School of Engineering (SOE), College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and the School of Education, Health and Human Behavior (SEHHB).

Two signature moments occurred during the SON and SOE ceremonies.

Jessica Elizabeth Prost died of brain cancer more than a month prior to what would have been her graduation ceremony for the nursing anesthesia specialization in the Doctorate of Nursing practice degree program. While a student, Prost traveled on a global mission to provide anesthesia to residents of Honduras and, closer to the SIUE campus, she dedicated more than 3200 hours in the clinical setting. She had dreams of becoming a CRNA. Her father, himself a CRNA, accepted her posthumous degree to a standing ovation.

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Edward C. Grady, Bachelor of Urban and Environmental Engineering, ‘72, received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Minor and S. Cem Karacal, PhD, dean of SOE. Grady has been an SIUE angel investor for more than 40 years, and throughout his career worked as a civil engineer in East St. Louis as well as vice president of worldwide sales at Monsanto.

“I built my career on skills partly learned at SIUE engineering—being a problem solver, finding root causes, applying data and facts and just a lot of common sense,” said Grady. “I learned you don't know what you don't know.”

Grady, who was inducted into the SIUE Alumni Hall of Fame in 2011, also received the outstanding alumnus award from SOE. He offered this advice to the graduates: “Take every opportunity with courage and determination. Believe in yourself. Trust in your abilities, and apply common sense. Life is choices. Make good ones. However, if you happen to make a poor choice, learn from that choice and move forward.”

“Become comfortable being uncomfortable,” said Sims who detailed what led up to a critical pivot during his career as an oncology pharmacy regional manager where he felt unfulfilled. “Joy was absent, motivation waned, and balance eluded me.” Sims said he embraced discomfort and was then offered the opportunity to embark on a new career track that still involved oncology, but in a different setting.

“Through this transformative experience, I learned an invaluable lesson that comfort zones often hinder growth, while embracing discomfort can lead to profound personal and professional fulfillment.”

Graduate Maria Ferrari began her career as an SIUE police officer eight years ago and decided to pursue her MBA. She graduated with a specialization in management and encouraged members of the SIUE community to “continuously strive to learn. SIUE provides an amazing opportunity to its workers to pursue their education.”

“In addition to pursuing my degree and being a police officer, I am also a wife, mother, PTO Board Member, SIUE Staff Senate Member and a member of a local charity group, the Ed-Glen Junior Service Club (JSC),” said Ferrari. “My advice to future SIUE grads is check for your text in audiobook, set mini goals to break down your workload, and remember to ‘just keep swimming’--you’ve got this. Remember what you do impacts others, and as my father taught me, ‘Do everything to the best of your ability.’ You never know who’s watching and you never know who you are inspiring!”

Graduates in this cohort were also quick to express gratitude to various faculty and staff who supported their dreams. Shelbi Paul, who earned a Master of Arts in Applied Communication Studies and Bikash Pokharel, who earned a Master of Science in Media Studies both worked as graduate assistants in SIUE Marketing and Communications.

“I am so thankful for all that SIUE has given to me,” said Paul. “Between the incredibly supportive faculty from the ACS department and my coworkers in the Marketing and Communication department, I have gained relationships and knowledge that will last a lifetime. Obtaining any form of an advanced degree is no easy task but it is one that will pay off for all the years to come. I am filled with nothing but extreme gratitude.”

“The support and warmth I received here, being an international student--SIUE felt like home far from home,” said Pokharel who hails from Nepal. “The vibrant student organization community allowed me to lead SIUE film society, which was supported by the Mass Communication department. The trust and faith showered by Dr. Kapatamoyo has changed my perspective on how every situation can be dealt with optimism and a positive attitude. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity provided by Chancellor Minor and Marketing and Communication department. My friends from different corners of world taught me more about friendships, and my professors from different backgrounds taught me that the world is within my grasp. SIUE has transformed me into a better version of myself and I feel I am ready to contribute to our community.”

“We all have the power to make a difference. But being a changemaker is not going to be easy,” said CAS student speaker Rie’Onna Holman, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in Secondary English Language Arts. “It requires perseverance in the face of adversity, resilience in the face of failure and an unwavering determination to pursue our goals despite the obstacles that may stand in our way.”

Holman adds, “It doesn't matter where you come from. What really matters is where you're headed and the impact that you choose to make along the way. I want you to remember that No dream is too big. No challenge is too great. And no obstacle is too insurmountable when you have the courage to pursue our passions with purpose and conviction.”

“I always remember one thing Professor Musonda said that changed my life: ‘There is already NO as an answer for you if you just think and never say (anything). But if you start planning, trying, or seeking help, it might change.’ It changed me,” said international student Bipin Banjara, who earned a Master of Science in Media Studies. “From being the survivor of the civil war in Nepal to working as a Digital Media Assistant for the Chancellor of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville while pursuing my master's here in the United States, it is a story in itself, but not the end of the story for a student who started his quest for life herding cows in the forest to capturing stories through the camera.”

“Everything that we've experienced, contributes to our uniqueness. Our life experiences give us so much value and are so easy for us to overlook,” said SIUE School of Business ceremony student speaker Hannah Sheahan, who earned her Bachelor of Science in Accountancy.

"Live each day unapologetically as yourself. The world's a better place with your unique perspective in it. While the last four years have likely posed challenges along the way, the real work begins when we set out these doors today.”

Minor offered the following instructions to the graduating class as they emerged from this transformative moment: “As you embark on your respective journeys, I ask that you remember the privilege and the responsibility that come with being an educated citizen. I want to encourage you to use your knowledge your skills, talent and experience not only to make outsized contributions in your profession, but to also make outsized contributions to your community and to society.”

“Class of 2020 for the world awaits your brilliance and your unwavering determination to make a difference. May your future be bright and may your dreams be boundless.”

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville provides students with a high-quality education that powerfully transforms the lives of all individuals who seek something greater. A premier metropolitan university, SIUE is creating social and economic mobility for individuals while also powering the workforce of the future. Built on the foundation of a broad-based liberal education, and enhanced by hands-on research and real-world experiences, the academic preparation SIUE students receive equips them to thrive in the global marketplace and make our communities better places to live. Home to a diverse student body, SIUE is situated on 2,660 acres of beautiful woodland atop the bluffs overlooking the natural beauty of the Mississippi River’s rich bottomland and only a short drive from downtown St. Louis.?

PHOTOS by Howard Ash located here: https://www.siue.edu/news/2024/05/SIUECommencementCeremoniesMarktheResiliencyof2024SpringGraduates.shtml

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