University Park, IL,
09:47 AM

2016 Commencement Student Speakers

There are two words echoing through the halls of every university right now: graduation and commencement. These are important words laden with connotation. We often think of this time as one of ending. This is the end of school, the end of a semester, the end of college careers—but when we commence, we begin. This is not a time for ending.

We enter universities as novices. We listen in classrooms as professors profess to us, and over time, we transform. Every paper, each presentation helps us to transit from unlearned to learned. By the time graduation rolls around, we know some things. We don’t know everything, but we’ve learned some facts, formulated a few hypotheses and tested them, and now we can stand in the front of the room and speak. We have become our own experts. We commence together and begin our next chapters.

This year at GSU, two graduates have been chosen to speak at the ceremonies. One, a master’s student who has balanced family and career while furthering her education, will address the morning crowd; our afternoon speaker embodies the American Dream.

Debra Earl

Before returning to school and earning her bachelor’s degree from Chicago State University in 2013, Debra Earl worked for 25 years in the private sector. She married and raised her family. During that time, she also faced a personal crisis that taught her the blessings of an extra day and what can be accomplished in one. She put her days to good use working for non-profit organizations focusing on at-risk youth and became active in civic engagement and social justice issues. She also experienced politics and advocacy in action, canvassing during elections and interning for a state representative and Senator Dick Durbin.

Her studies at Governors State reflect her passion. As a double master’s degree student, Earl received a Master of Political and Justice Studies in August 2015, and she will receive a Master of Public Administration at today’s Commencement Ceremony.

At GSU, she became a member of Pi Alpha Alpha, Global Public Administration Honor Society; Pi Sigma Alpha, National Political Science Honor Society; Alpha Sigma Lambda, Higher Education Honor Society; the Master of Public Administration Club; and she served on the Student Conduct Committee. She participated in the 2014 Midwest Political Science Conference in Chicago, presenting a poster paper on immigration reform. She was editor assistant for the book The Political Roots of Racial Tracking in American Criminal Justice by Dr. Nina M. Moore of Colgate University.

Earl plans to attend law school next year and focus her career on advocacy for undocumented immigrants. She hopes to be instrumental in shaping the dialogue and policy toward immigration.

Joseph Klis

For Joseph Klis, the values of hard work and perseverance exemplified by his parents are the principles that have guided his journey. On May 14, he will cross the stage as Dr. Joseph Klis, having earned his Doctorate in Physical Therapy.

As the son of immigrants, Klis’ first language was Polish. He learned English in school and never looked back. At a young age, he set his sights on being the first in his family to earn a degree. With a full tuition scholarship, he first attended Moraine Valley Community College and completing his B.S. at the University of Illinois-Chicago before entering the Doctorate in Physical Therapy program at GSU.

Klis’ decision to enter physical therapy came after he spent time during high school investigating different healthcare fields. He shadowed E.R. physicians, pharmacists, and dentists before discovering physical therapy when he took his grandmother to an appointment. When he saw the profession at work and witnessed firsthand how the therapist helped his grandmother achieve increased mobility, he knew what he wanted to do.

His determination to help others has not been limited to his work as a therapist. As a student at GSU, Klis has worked as a graduate assistant in New Student Programs and served as DPT class liaison, assisting in communication of class-related matters. He has become an active member in the Illinois Physical Therapy Association, serving on several committees and programs. He presented most recently at their March 2016 meeting.

While earning his DPT has been his immediate goal, Dr. Klis’ determination and perseverance does not end here. In the future, he plans to earn additional certifications and qualifications to enable him to work with athletic and sports organizations. Additionally, he will continue his involvement with professional associations working to support the goals of the physical therapy.