Commencement 2023: Well done, graduates!
Governors State University’s (GSU) Commencement 2023 was a day of joyful celebration, a moment to honor those the GSU community lost, and a pedestal for the recurring themes of giving back, stepping up as leaders, and the transformative power of education.
As he took the podium, Tony Labriola, Master of Ceremonies for Commencement 2023 and Professor Emeritus from the GSU College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) said, “It takes a village to raise a child; it takes a family and a community to raise a graduate.”
“This is commencement. It’s about freshness and new beginnings,” said Labriola. “We are here to celebrate the graduates; this is their time.”
Then, with the trumpet’s fanfare, Commencement 2023 began.
Nearly 1,400 graduates gathered with their loved ones, peers, and academic leaders at the Tinley Park Convention Center for two ceremonies marked by pomp and circumstance, the finest academic regalia, and a celebratory spirit that rang out throughout the venue.
Graduates, beaming with joy and pride, wearing an array of graduation caps creatively decorated, some atop hijabs, some atop elaborate African braids and flowing locks; multi-colored cords and sashes could be seen all across the room; each telling the GSU story, “You belong here!”
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.
The newly elected Faculty Senate President, Li Wei Peng led the procession of esteemed faculty and graduates resplendent in academic regalia, followed by the distinguished platform party.
Once the procession was seated, Labriola asked all military veterans to rise and receive the thanks of a grateful GSU community, and a rousing chorus of cheers and applause began.
The National Anthem and Left Every Voice and Sing, also known as the Black National Anthem, were performed at both ceremonies. GSU Community Health major Myrna Montgomery, sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing’’ during the afternoon ceremony where she also received her bachelor’s degree. Montgomery, 60, hopes to build a career in the healthcare segment serving people with disabilities.
Angela Sebastian, Chair of the Governors State University Board of Trustees, and a GSU alum, spoke on behalf of the Board of Trustees. Sebastien thanked the candidates for choosing GSU and serving as examples to others who may choose GSU.
“Please celebrate and acknowledge what you have accomplished. Acknowledge and celebrate that you followed your passion, you followed your curiosity. I also invite you to make change. You are the leaders now. Lead from where you are, and I hope each and every one of you does just that,” said Sebastien.
Next at the podium was Dr. Li Wei Peng, President of the Faculty Senate. After greeting and congratulating the graduates on behalf of the faculty at GSU, Peng began her address with Chinese philosophy read in Mandarin:
Then Peng continued in English, “As a child in Taiwan, I learned this Chinese philosophy from my elementary school teacher. Her lessons taught us to overcome our fears and confront the hurdles that prevent our success. And we learned that success is defined by our unique, individual world views,” Peng said.
She encouraged the graduates to keep in touch with their professors because the GSU faculty are their lifetime success partners. “Forever a Jaguar – Congratulations 2023 graduates! You made it!”
The morning’s student commencement speaker, Bhargavi Kasetti, hails from Hyderabad, India. She received her master’s degree in Computer Science at the morning ceremony. She reflected on her time at GSU and reminded the graduates that they can achieve greatness.
“We must also remember the importance of giving back. We have been given a great gift, the gift of education, the great equalizer, and it is our responsibility to use it to make the world a better place,” said Kasetti.
The afternoon student commencement speaker, Ralph Sansone, 39, an Elementary Education major, joined GSU in 2021 as part of the Dual Degree Program’s partnership with Kankakee Community College. Sansone, who dropped out of high school as a teen, found his way back to education and his passion for teaching after the birth of his daughter.
To the class of 2023 Sansone said, “We all have struggled, we all have succeeded, and we all have failed, but what makes us better is that none of us gave up. These experiences, these trials and tribulations have helped make us the people we are today. So, we need to impact the world with our positivity and our passions to help make the world a better place for the future.”
Dr. Cheryl Green, President of Governors State University, after welcoming everyone to Commencement 2023, began her address by recognizing that on the eve of Mother’s Day, some mothers; some families have lost loved ones this year.
Dr. Green was referring to three students that were lost during the 2022-23 academic year. Chasatte Simeon, and Kristen Arbuckle, both senior undergraduate students, and Devshish Nandapu, a first semester international student majoring in computer science. Nandapu, who was from India, had only been in the U.S. 10 days when he was killed during a robbery. “Lives taken too soon,” said Green.
“And yes, tomorrow is Mother’s Day, but one mother among us has both sorrow and joy in her heart today; the mother of Amiyah Micah Preston.”
Preston, a community health major, lost her sister, Areanah Preston, the Chicago police officer slain when returning home after her shift, one week prior to graduation ceremonies planned for both Preston sisters. The Preston family was present during the afternoon ceremony celebrating the graduation of Amiyah. Areanah receive a master’s in jurisprudence posthumously from Loyola University on the morning of May 13. The Preston family, along with members of the Chicago Police Department dressed in full uniform, came to celebrate Amiyah’s accomplishment.
“Our hearts are with the Preston family and with all mothers who have lost loved ones,” said Green after a moment of silence to honor those that were lost this academic year.
Later in the ceremony, as graduates crossed the stage to receive their degrees, Amiyah Preston walked the stage, her diploma in one hand, a portrait of her sister in the other.
As Dr. Green continued with her address, she reflected on the significance of graduation, specifically the graduation of this class of Governors State students. She arrived at two truths that were recurring themes throughout the ceremonies; education is life transforming; and education is the investment of a lifetime.
Green then highlighted three additional graduates who personify this theme of education as a transformational investment of a lifetime:
James Adduci, a first-generation college student named GSU’s 2022 Lincoln Laureate, and Lluvia Hernandez-Aguirre, a first-generation college student and a Student Trustee on the Governors State University Board of Trustees. Also celebrating Commencement 2023 was Mary K Polk who was a member of one of GSU’s very first graduating classes, earning her Bachelor’s of Health Science in Nursing Practice in 1976. Polk came to see her grand-daughter, Lydia Marie Boone receive her degree.
“These powerful stories demonstrate how GSU transforms lives through education, multiplied by the hundreds in this room today. This year, Governors State University is graduating 1,378 students – that is 1,378 people who have invested in their lives and transformed their stories at Governors State University!” Green said. “We are so very proud of you!”
“Of the 1,378 graduates, 650 are graduating with masters, doctoral, and advanced degrees. There are 196 students graduating with honors – summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude. And in a truly remarkable accomplishment, 87 of our graduates have completed their degrees with a perfect 4.0.,” Green said.
Dr. Jun Zhao, Dean of the College of Business received recognition for her years of service to GSU during the afternoon ceremony. Commencement 2023 will be her final commencement as Dean of the College of Business. A resolution honoring Dr. Zhao was also read.
Honorary Degree Recipient, Sylvia Puente delivered a heartfelt address that reminded graduates that none of them made it here alone. Puente, a Chicago native who began her advocacy at age 13 when she supported her mother and family from the picket lines in support of the United Farmworkers Union, is the President and CEO of the Latino Policy Forum, an organization that promotes equity and justice.
She left graduates with three valuable lessons to live by; know who you are and be grounded in your identity and your gifts; step up to leadership; and listen to the wisdom of your heart.
Cristy Gallegos and Dr. Toya Garnes, both from the GSU Alumni Association, congratulated the graduates and welcomed them into the alumni association where they have earned connection with more than 58,000 alumni who have come before them and also, to those who will come after.
“I encourage you to “pay-it-forward” by continued engagement with GSU. Come back for alumni events and activities, share your success stories, become a volunteer leader, mentor a student, and network with other alumni,” said Gallegos.
Finally, with all degrees conferred and the ceremonial tassels moved from the right to the left cheek, Dr. Green saluted the graduates one final time.
“On behalf of Governors State University, congratulations and welcome to the community of educated men and women! Well done, Class of 2023!”