News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

May 8, 2014

Turning the tassel: Ivy Tech-Wabash Valley holds commencement

TERRE HAUTE — Brandy Sparks has overcome tremendous odds and a series of health challenges while earning a degree from Ivy Tech Community College.

She’s had multiple surgeries and was fighting for her life at one point.

But the 35-year-old from Bowling Green had a dream and she didn’t give up. She has earned a degree in business administration from Ivy Tech-Wabash Valley, and Thursday evening, she walked across the stage at Hulman Center during the college’s 46th commencement ceremony.

“It’s amazing,” she said in an interview just prior to the ceremony. “It’s been a dream of mine since I can remember.”

She also hopes it serves as an inspiration to her two daughters, ages 18 and 12, who sat in the audience. “You don’t give up. When you have a dream, you don’t quit,” she said.

Her daughters saw her when her health was at its worst, and they helped her in the hospital. On Thursday, they saw her walk across the stage and receive a diploma.

She also credited Ivy Tech faculty for their support. “They have been good to me,” she said. “If not for them, I wouldn’t have made it. They believed in me and wanted me to succeed.”

Sparks joined hundreds of Ivy Tech students in celebration of their accomplishments. A total of about 800 earned credentials — including associate degrees or certificates — although not all of them participated in the ceremony.

The keynote speaker was Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett, who graduated from Indiana Vocational Technical College (later renamed Ivy Tech Community College) in 1980 with an associate of science degree in telecommunications. In 2006, he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan University.

He told graduates “your degree is a testament to your drive and determination.” It’s not just a piece of paper, he said. “It stands for all the late nights of studying, the friendships you’ve made, the faculty member who challenged you and your family and friends who supported you.”

He encouraged them to set new goals for themselves and to strive to make a difference in the world. “This isn’t the end of your learning. It’s really just the beginning,” Bennett said.

He also leveled with them. “It’s tough out there. The economy is still in very poor shape and good jobs are hard to come by. But you have an edge over your competition,” he said. Their newly-earned degrees and certificates will help them successfully land the opportunities out there.

Meghan Pepelea, vice president of the Student Government Association, told fellow students, “I’m truly inspired by each and every one of you … Go out there and do something remarkable.”    

Honorary degree recipients Patrick and Nancy Ralston of Terre Haute received an associate of science in College and Community Service in recognition of their commitment to education and to Ivy Tech.

The program included a video montage that served as a student tribute to family and friends who helped the graduates reach their goals. As the video played, the Ivy Singers sang, “Climb Every Mountain.”

Prior to commencement, graduate Lawrence Buckner stood in the upper concourse of Hulman Center waiting for the ceremony to begin. He received an associate degree in biotechnology and graduated summa cum laude with a perfect 4.0 GPA. He already has a degree in biology from Butler University.

He hopes his resume helps him land a good job.

Statewide, Ivy Tech awarded 20,400 credentials, an estimated increase of 22 percent over last year.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or


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