Class of 2016 Commencement
With a running roll of #MyGSU Graduation Stories playing on a screen as attendees filtered in and a live stream of the hall queued to run on the Governors State University site, proud parents and other family members of GSU graduates waited at the Tinley Park Convention Center for the university’s 45th commencement to begin on May 14—twice. At 10 a.m., graduates from the College of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences donned their regalia and, one by one, received their diplomas. At 5 p.m., the pomp and circumstance was renewed for students graduating from the College of Business and the College of Health and Human Services. In total, 1,835 GSU students earned their baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral degrees in 2016.
Professor Emeritus Tony Labriola served as emcee for both ceremonies, welcoming the trumpeters and dignitaries along with students and faculty members. At each, he took a moment to honor all of the veterans, active duty military, and military families present, offering them “the thanks of a grateful GSU community” in a show of gratitude “for higher education in a free society.” Following the military salute, the crowd rose for the national anthem, sang by Felice Kimbrew in the morning and Phillip Richardson during the evening commencement ceremony.
GSU Board of Trustees Chair Brian D. Mitchell congratulated the Class of 2016 on behalf of the Board and spoke to the graduates about the road ahead.
“By completing your degree, you have given yourself a tremendous foundation for the rest of your life. Trust yourself and use it. Use what you’ve learned here and face your challenges head on with confidence. You are prepared for what awaits you after today,” Mitchell said.
Congratulations and words of wisdom came in from the Faculty Senate and Alumni Association, as well. Barbara Winicki, Faculty Senate president commended the graduates "for demonstrating over and over again (their) determination to complete what (they) started--a paper, a course, a degree program." She urged the new diplomates to "be careful, but not too careful. Grasp opportunities, even if doing so means you must leave a safe space." Jamelia Hand welcomed the new alumni to “a lifetime club affectionately named the Class of 2016” and encouraged them to continue their engagement with GSU as they move forward in their professional lives.
In the morning ceremony, Debra Earl came forward as the student speaker. Receiving her second master’s degree, Earl shared her story of loss and perseverance with her fellow graduates. Earl’s first-born son—who was born on May 14—died in a drowning accident, and she spoke to the crowd of learning to triumph despite tragedy. “I share my personal trial,” she said, “not as a burden but to uplift.” She closed her speech with lines from William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus: It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the master of my soul.
Joseph Klis, the evening student speaker, also expounded on owning one’s destiny.
“How do we set our sails?” he asked. “Well, we have to examine our lives and correct the errors of our past and then adopt new disciplines for our future. You may be thinking the government has to change, the economy has to change, my boss’s attitude towards me has to change in order for me to become successful, but that is simply not true. In order for things to change, you have to change.”
GSU President Elaine P. Maimon kept her remarks short. Citing one of her mentors, Lattie Coor, President Maimon urged the graduates to do two things: keep learning and help others. She talked about “the intertwining of learning and life” that takes place on campus and the “strong foundation in life-long learning” that GSU’s first freshmen class—now juniors—is receiving. She asked the graduates to take a moment to applaud the support systems that helped them reach graduation then urged them to continue that cycle of support and learning.
“Graduates, it’s your turn now to help others. That’s the best way to thank those who have helped you… Encourage friends and family members to attend college. Give back philanthropically. Invest in GSU and in what we are building here. Pay it forward. Help others. And by doing so, you will help yourselves toward a fulfilling life as an educated person…Make us proud; make us better; make a difference.”
From there, the names were called. As faculty members and administrators shook the graduates' hands, the diplomas were distributed. After the final graduate crossed the stage, the processional receded.The last orchestral notes rang out, and solemnity was replaced with festivity. In tribute, Prince's Let's Go Crazy played over the sound system, and 1,835 GSU students celebrated.