Historic 2018 Commencement
The trumpet fanfare that announced Governors State University’s (GSU) 47th commencement on May 19 heralded a truly historic moment for more than 1,100 graduates at the Tinley Park Convention Center, making them part of one of the most singular events in GSU’s history.
For the first time ever, graduates receiving their baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees included members of GSU’s inaugural freshman class, those who had spent their entire four years of college at the university — the first fruit of a bold initiative successfully launched four years ago.
In 2014, GSU took the unprecedented step of expanding the upper-division university by adding underclassmen and welcoming its inaugural freshmen class. The following academic year, GSU achieved another milestone by welcoming students at all four undergraduate levels as well as graduate students.
On May 19, Commencement for the class of 2018 was as exuberant as it was historic. Graduates from the College of Business (COB) the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS) and the College of Education (COE) received their degrees at a morning ceremony, while those from the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) received theirs at an evening ceremony. Master of Ceremonies Tony Labriola, Professor Emeritus in CAS Division of Communication-Visual and Performing Arts opened both with a combination of celebratory joy and decorum.
Among those who received special recognition were graduates from the Honors Program, the Dual Degree Program and those who have served in the U.S. military and their families. Several speakers gave warm recognition to members of First Class 14, as freshmen were called four years ago.
“At GSU, we celebrate diversity,” said Patrick Ormsby, President of the Board of Trustees. “And today, we celebrate diversity of a different type. Today, we graduate the full spectrum of students, from students returning to school after years in the workforce all the way to our first class of graduates who began at GSU as freshman in the fall of 2014,” he said.
Faculty Senate President David Golland, associate professor, echoed the sentiment with a touch of humor. “For 45 years, something was missing at GSU: that pitter-patter of 18-year-old feet,” he said.
“Like expectant parents, we prepared for the big day with great anticipation, developing curriculum, expanding and creating new programs, hiring new faculty. We built you a house to live in, establishing Prairie Place, GSU’s first living-learning community, also known as ‘the dorm.’ We even created a mascot, (Jax the Jaguar).
“It has been such an immense pleasure, these last four years, to watch you grow, to become what you now are. And now, here you are,” Golland said.
Angela Hickey of the GSU Alumni Association welcomed students to the “lifetime club” of more than 45,000 fellow graduates. “I believe everyone has opportunity to lead not by virtue of position, but by virtue of a passion. Share your passion with future GSU students and graduates,” she urged. “As graduates, we know firsthand the excellent education that await future students and how obtaining a GUS degree opens so many possibilities.”
Due to the historic nature of 2018 commencement, there were two student speakers at each ceremony including graduates from First Class 14.
An overjoyed Justin Smith, graduating with his degree in entrepreneurship from the COB, kicked off his speech with the declaration: “We made it!”
He recalled the road he and fellow graduates had traveled from freshman to graduating senior. “In the first year, we had to wake up … and realize that we had to learn the unfamiliar place we were in and adapt,” he said.
“In the second year we had to stand up and let it be known that we were going to take on this pivotal time in life, and let it be known that we are here to stand together.
“In the third year, we had to tear down all the walls that would attempt to hinder us. We had to tear down old ways of thinking, and we had to tear down anything that would get in our way.
“And in the final year we had to build up! We had to build up the new foundation that we began to lay even in our first year. We have to build up a foundation for the next generation,” Smith said.
“Because of our sacrifice, because of our discipleship and diligence, and because we endured, in this season we will reap. … Get ready, because of the seeds we have sown, it’s harvest time.”
Jamal McPherson, who earned his bachelor of science in criminal justice and was the first recipient of GSU’s Global Learning Scholarship, paused before he spoke to wipe away tears.
Using the “iceberg theory,” he said, “What you see is only 10 percent of it; 90 percent is under water.
“There are three major variables that are factored into the 90 percent. The first is the process—being present and aware to learn and enjoy the process. The second is letting go of fear … the fear of change, of failure, rejection, pain, doubt and criticism. We often times become our biggest barriers to success. The last salient variable is sacrifice. You will not gain something for nothing. Sacrificing time, unhealthy relationships, energy and money are all essential in growth.
“We have won the battle, the battle we fought to get where we are now, but we have yet to win the war. Today we will celebrate our victory, and tomorrow we will get back to work.”
At the evening ceremony, First Class 14 member Simone Jones said what resonated with her most was living in Prairie Place. “The sense of being part of a community gives you that extra push to be better and be a good role model for that community,” she said. “Although I wasn’t a formal leader on campus, I utilized the things I learned from my personal experiences and being a mentee of the Student Leadership Institute. I would always introduce myself to the underclass population in the dorms and offer my academic and mental support the best way I knew how. If I couldn’t help them, I would direct them to the proper authority figure or online resource that best met their needs. Just through these small gestures I learned that knowledge is power. The power of knowing gets things done effectively and promoted growth.”
Student speaker Jerry Davis-EL, who was receiving a master’s degree in social work, called himself “a product and proponent of GSU’s mission of transformative education and restorative justice.” After a 16-year cycle of arrests and convictions for nonviolent offenses, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in social work from GSU, was named a student laureate by the Lincoln Academy of Illinois in Springfield for leadership and founded GSU’s Generating Hope, which provides support, mentoring and resources to formerly incarcerated students and their families.
At the evening ceremony, he thanked all those who had supported him along his incredible journey. “I am not in this by myself, and my fellow graduates, you are not in this by yourself,” he said. “Collectively, we can change the world for the better! Collectively we can change policies, dismantle racism, discrimination, poverty, racial profiling, sexual harassment, the abuse of power, privilege and entitlement and the list goes on! Collectively we can live out America’s principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Before offering words of advice to the Class of 2018, President Elaine P. Maimon acknowledged those whose foresight and support had helped bring GSU to this historic moment. “I want to give special thanks to former trustees, Jack Beaupre and Lorine Samuels, who chaired the Board of Trustees during the period of GSU’s transformation to a full-service, comprehensive university, and to our current Board Chair, Pat Ormsby. They exhibited their own life-long learning by leading the university through this momentous period of change,” she said.
Dr. Maimon offered concise advice to graduates that would serve them all their lives: to keep learning and to help others. “Make us proud; make us better; make a difference,” she told them.
GSU’s 2018 honorary degree recipients represented decades of successful work toward maintaining a free and open society for all.
Award-winning television news reporter Carol Marin and producer Don Moseley received honorary degrees at the morning ceremony. Moseley spoke about the importance of teamwork, truth-speaking and lifting up others. “All of you are walking out into a world full of complicated issues,” he said. “The most important guidance I can give you is this: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Marin acknowledged the wonderful diversity of the GSU community and said that like many graduates, she and Moseley had been the first in their families to attend college. She urged them to find work they love. “We believe in the value of the work we do. It’s our jet fuel,” she said. “If you love what you do, it will be your jet fuel. Let this happen to you. If you so love what you do, it’ll propel you to do so much more and be so much more.”
At the evening event, social activist Martin R. Castro, the first Latino to head the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, was awarded an honorary degree. The Jaguar inspires pride in him, Castro said.
" It's this institution's mascot. But as a proud Mexican-American, in my roots I have the Aztec empire. It has two warrior classes, the Eagle Knights and the Jaguar Knights. Today I stand before you as a fellow Jaguar Knight. They were noble, loyal, and persistent. And that's what we shall be for all the people we represent."
President Maimon offered a final greeting. “Welcome, graduates, into the company of educated women and men.”