Commencement 2022: We're Back (in person)
In-person gathering was one of many firsts in two emotionally charged ceremonies at the Tinley Park Convention Center.
The concert band sounded with a sharp and joyous note that cut through the air with precision, and the fanfare that followed marked the beginning of Governors State University’s (GSU) 2022 Commencement ceremony. Not since 2019, have graduates convened in person to celebrate their academic excellence and accomplishments.
Nearly 1,000 graduates gathered with their loved ones, peers and academic leaders at the Tinley Park Convention Center for two ceremonies marked by emotional speeches and new university leaders, including President Cheryl Green.
Graduation caps creatively decorated, some atop hijabs, elaborate African braids and flowing locks, multi-colored cords and sashes adorned some; each graduate has a place—a home —at GSU.
Graduates from the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and the College of Business (COB) received their degrees at a morning ceremony, while those from the College of Education (COE) and the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS) received their degrees at an afternoon ceremony. Master of Ceremonies Tony Labriola, Professor Emeritus in CAS Division of Communication-Visual and Performing Arts returned to open both ceremonies with a combination of pomp, circumstance, and triumph.
“This is a glorious day to celebrate our graduates,’’ said Labriola in his signature booming voice. “We look forward to them carrying the GSU torch forward.”
With the trumpet’s fanfare, the ceremonies began.
Newly elected Faculty Senate President Marlon Cummings led the procession of the esteemed faculty and graduates resplendent in academic regalia, followed by the distinguished platform party.
IDSS graduate Ramona Hernandez thanked military veterans with a heartfelt rendition of the National Anthem in the morning. With tears in her eyes, Hernandez delivered powerful notes. In the afternoon, Community Health graduate Brave Fung sang the National Anthem.
In another first, the Black National Anthem – also known as Lift Every Voice and Sing - was delivered by an emotional Marquis Parks, a sophomore Theater and Studies major. Some notes were sung with a smile, still others delivered in deep tones, with a tear in his eye.
Parks said he was honored to celebrate Black culture with the song, never before delivered at GSU Commencement
In her first in-person ceremony since joining the Board of Trustees, Chair Lisa M. Harrell, told graduates they have inspired her in an unexpected way.
“What you do with your degree will inspire others, and because of you and watching you, in the fall of 2022, I will become a student Jaguar, entering the doctoral program at GSU. Because of you,’’ she said.
Overwhelming joy was how Dr. Cummings described his emotions during Commencement. “I am thankful for a job like no other to produce leaders, and at Governors State, We …. produce … leaders … Continue to learn; remember to teach; follow your dreams; have gratitude, for gratitude helps us to make sense with our past, brings peace to our present and brings a vision for tomorrow. Families, cheer for your graduate, hug them tight, they deserve it. Yesterday, students, today graduates, tomorrow alumni. Forever Jaguars. Congratulations class of 2022, you made it.”
Lester Van Moody, GSU Alumni Association and a university retention specialist, welcomed graduates to the elite club of more than 57,000 alumni. In the afternoon, Alumnae Kim Gonzalez addressed future alumni.
“I happily welcome you, Class of 2022, to the Governors State University's alumni family,’’ she said.
Student Trustee Latrice Koger introduced student commencement speaker Sonya Petty.
An exuberant Petty, graduating with her degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from the College of Arts and Sciences, acknowledged her family, and her mother who passed away in 2015, for inspiring her to return to school.
“I’m the mother of Akilah Petty, a sister to Jackie, Louise and the late George Petty, Jr. I’m also the daughter of George and Helen who had the dreams for their children to strive for greatness. We are here today because of their hard work and determination, as well as our own commitment to persevere – no matter what.”
She drew on her faith to inspire fellow graduates and inspire others to want to be graduates.
“This year I’ll celebrate my 40th year high school reunion. I get to go to my reunion as a degreed woman. I’m here to tell you there is no delay on dreams fulfilled,’’ before she quoted Ephesians 3:20. “Now, unto him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all.”
Petty concluded her speech with an excerpt from Maya Angelou’s iconic poem. “Yet, we rise like a phoenix from ashes.”
Dr. Green, Governors State’s sixth president who took office at the height of the pandemic, said she was thrilled to be with graduates. She was both glowing with joy and beaming with pride throughout both ceremonies.
"I am thrilled to be here. I have looked forward to this occasion since I arrived at GSU in July 2020 at the height of the pandemic …Today, we rejoice with the 2022 graduates in person,’’ she said before acknowledging first generation, multigenerational and honors graduates.
“Please stand if you are able.”
She also recognized the Aguirre sisters, Emily and Lydia Aguirre who graduated with master’s and bachelor’s degrees. Their mom Raquel Rios retired in 2021 after nearly 30 years of service at GSU.
Leanne Chelepis joined student athletes Lenny Baumann and Sedona Smith in being recognized by Dr. Green.
To the graduates she said, “There is sheer pride and joy on my face, celebrating this day with you is the absolute best part of being the president. You are your ancestors’ wildest dreams. You have proven that you can succeed against the odds.”
“You are now and forever members of the Jaguar family. You are legacy, I expect you to shine and shine brightly,” she said, her voice full of emotion. “We will always welcome you home. Go forth in your careers and lives. And remember, GSU is home.”
Dr. Green’s address was followed by GSU Provost Beverly Schneller's formal presentation of the candidates for graduation.
In the afternoon service, Peter Brassea graduating with his degree in Social Work from the College of Health and Human Services, dedicated his speech to his mother who passed away when he was just 13 years old and his father, who supported him and was also diagnosed with the same cancer that his mother succumbed to. He also acknowledged all those people who helped and supported him as he found his way.
He told graduates to hold on to imagination. “… As we leave here today with our new regalia, I want everyone in this room to remember the many steps we took and the roads that we traveled to get here today. I want to remind everyone that we can change lives. We can change the world, together; no matter what class, race, sexual orientation, or religion we are. We can create a world where we do not judge or discriminate against others that are different from us. We can create anything in this world, and it all starts with a vivid imagination.”
Receiving the honorary doctorate was Catholic Priest Rev. Michael Pfleger, who has served the largest Catholic Church on Chicago’s South Side for more than 40 years. At St. Sabina, the Rev. Pfleger unapologetically preaches the gospel of social justice, making demands of government and church officials.
For his work to advance the cause of diversity, equity and inclusion, the Rev. Pfleger’s work aligns with the mission of the university’s newly launched Social Justice Initiative, led by Dr. Phyllis West.
The night before Commencement, the university hosted a dinner for Pfleger on the CPA stage. There, he shared with some 100 guests that one day society would reflect the ideals of world peace and prosperity that Dr. King set forth in a 1956 speech.
“I pray that we will one day become the community Dr. King dreamed of – the Beloved Community,'' he said.
On Saturday, he saluted Dr. Green. "You are a gift to Governors State, and to this country,'' he said before congratulating the university on launching a Social Justice Initiative.
“We should have one at every college in our country. It's never meant more than it does right now.”
To the graduates, Pfleger challenged them to remember their personal missions. “ I charge you to hold on to your dream; hold on to your purpose and plan. Greatness is inside you don't ever forget it – you are great. You have everything you need to be what God has called you to be. You are multi-gifted and full of talent. No one can ever take that from you. Equally important, don't ever let life challenges or this unjust world ever cause you to give up on your dreams…. Don't ever try to fit in this world –this world is broken. This world is broken. Fix it; heal it. Make this country live up to who she says she is. I believe in you. You are my hope.”
With degrees conferred and the ceremonial tassel now gently grazing the left cheek of the graduates, Dr. Green saluted the graduates on final time.
“Welcome to the community of educated men and women,’’ she said.