SJR Column: Commencement, May 2018

This May UIS Perspectives column makes its appearance at the start of the 2018 college commencement season. An estimated 2 million college degrees will be awarded across the U.S. during the next few weeks and I could not be more proud of the nearly 1,000 University of Illinois at Springfield graduates who will be sharing the Bank of Springfield Convention Center stage with me on May 12th.

Among the many smiling grads whose hands I’ll be shaking is Rochester, Illinois native Krissy Finley. Krissy is majoring in Accountancy and is also a top competitor on the Prairie Stars Cross Country and Track teams.

“I chose UIS because of the opportunity to compete with the new Cross Country program,” says Krissy, “but I’ve also been grateful for professors who really care about me and who want me to learn and retain knowledge.”

Krissy completed an internship at Horace Mann this year and won’t have much down time after completing her degree. She is already working part-time for Horace Mann’s Planning and Expense Team and has accepted a fulltime accounting position there that starts after graduation. She plans to start her master’s degree next fall.

Tonda Chasteen, a Biology major from Lewistown, Illinois, became interested in UIS when she attended a high school science program near her hometown – at the UIS Therkildsen Field Station at Emiquon Nature Preserve. “The Necessary Steps Mentoring Program for first generation students helped me make a successful transition from high school to college,” says Tonda, “and doing research with Professor Layne Morsch in Chemistry was also a huge opportunity.”

Tonda presented her research with Dr. Morsch at the American Chemical Society conference in San Francisco last year and is completing her student teaching this Spring at Havana High School with science teacher Craig Bals.

“Commencement will be important for me and my family,” says Tonda, “because I will be the first in my family to get a four-year degree.”

Tonda will return to Havana High School next fall as a fulltime science teacher.

Soon-to-be grads Vincent Joseph and Munashe Ariwamwari will have at least one thing in common as they walk across the stage at commencement. They’ll both have family members in the audience and cheering via webcast from around the world! Vincent is a Computer Science graduate student from Mumbai, India. Munashe is an Honors student in Political Science whose family emigrated to Illinois from Zimbabwe.

“After working a few years at Accenture in India, I considered studying in Germany or Canada; but I’m very glad I came to the U.S.,” says Vincent.

“The Computer Science program here is amazing and I’ve had opportunities to be a Student Government Association representative as well as do a GPSI internship in the Illinois Auditor General’s Office.”

Munashe chose UIS for the strong Honors program – a UI degree in a more personalized environment.

“The Political Science department does a good job of providing opportunities like Model United Nations, the Illinois Innocence Project and Mock Trial,” says Munashe, “and the scholarships provided in the CAP Honors program helped pay for college.”

Munashe was awarded the prestigious “Best Delegate Award” during the International Model UN simulation in New York City last month and is completing an internship in Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth’s Springfield office. His next step is to decide which of six law school offers to accept. After law school, he plans to pursue a career in international law.

Vincent already knows where he’ll be after commencement. Graduating with Honors from UIS, he will continue the professional practice he started with his GPSI internship – assuming a fulltime auditor position in the Illinois Auditor General’s Office.

Commencement is most certainly a special rite of passage for graduates and their families; but it’s also meaningful for faculty who have invested deeply in the success of their students. Ben Walsh, Associate Professor of Management, and Adriana Crocker, Professor of Political Science, are among the many UIS faculty who’ll be participating in commencement ceremonies next weekend.

“Seeing commencement as a faculty member fills me with immense pride,” says Dr. Walsh. “I love it when families cheer for their graduate,” he adds. “It is so impactful, rewarding and significant.”

“As faculty, we try to provide students with what they need for the real world,” says Dr. Crocker, “including other perspectives and frames of reference – not just Illinois.”

“I tell my students commencement is not the end,” she reflects, “It’s the beginning.”

The mission of the University of Illinois is to “transform lives and serve society.” Thanks to the work of outstanding faculty and staff – people like Ben Walsh and Adriana Crocker – I am supremely confident that Krissy, Tonda, Munashe and Vincent have, indeed, been transformed by their UIS experience. I’m also confident they, like thousands of their fellow 2018 UI graduates at all three University of Illinois campuses, will serve society in important ways across Illinois and across the world for many years to come.

Congratulations, graduates – we’re proud of you!

Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois at Springfield

Chancellor Susan J. Koch