News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

May 3, 2014

GRADUATION SATURDAY: ‘A new phase in your lives’

Indiana State sends more than 1,200 out into world

TERRE HAUTE — As Indiana State University’s commencement program began Saturday at Hulman Center, a deafening applause ensued.

Proud family sat in the audience, taking photos and video, as students awaited their walk to the podium — and the next adventure in their young lives.

Some students festively decorated their mortar boards or wrote their name, sorority letters or a message: “Thank you God,” one stated.

More than 1,200 students participated in ISU’s 143rd spring commencement ceremony. Tanika Lyles, a graduating senior from Indianapolis, was the student speaker, while Sally Neville, a Terre Haute native, served as the alumni speaker.

Neville, who graduated from ISU in 1974 with a nursing degree, has devoted the past 22 years of her career to treatment of HIV patients.

For the first time this year, admission to commencement required a ticket and was limited to graduates’ families and friends, the result of larger graduating classes and limited seating.

“Today is the beginning of a new phase in your lives,” ISU president Dan Bradley told graduates. “Congratulations on what you have achieved and good luck in conquering the challenges and opportunities that you will face in the future.”  

He urged them to stay connected to ISU and to continue to learn in an ever-changing world.

Neville’s seven-minute talk both inspired her audience and drew some laughter. “Forty years ago, I sat where you are now,” she told students. “Hashtag, phew, I made it.”  

And that was after a night spent partying at the Ballyhoo. “Hashtag, I need more aspirin,” she reminisced. At ISU, “I worked, partied, studied and smoked a little weed,” she admitted, a comment that drew quite a bit of audience, especially student, support.

 “I had no grand plan” after graduation, she said. She was excited, yet unsure of herself and scared. “But mostly, I was ready to get on with my life.”

Neville said she’s been fortunate — she’s loved and been loved and entered a profession “that has brought me incredible personal and professional satisfaction.” She found her niche at the Kansas City CARE Clinic, where she has worked the  last 22 years.

 She reflected on her journey from the floor of Hulman Center 40 years ago to the podium Saturday. She encouraged students to “be open, be present and be passionate,” qualities that have brought her “the most meaningful and important moments of my life.”

She encouraged graduates to be open to new experiences, ideas and opinions that will inspire, challenge and motivate them; to not just show up, but to embrace and nurture the moment; and to give of their time, energy and heart “and you will make a difference.”  

Rather than judge those who struggle or have difficulties, stand in awe of the burden they carry, she said. “Every day, you will have an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life,” both in large and small ways, Neville said.

Lyles, who came to ISU as a walk-on for the Sycamore track and field team, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sport management. Students’ time at ISU “has been a journey of self-fulfillment and self-discovery … Our ISU education has challenged us to exceed our own expectations and overcome our fears of failing.”

 She told graduates to focus on their inspirations, live out their dreams and have confidence in who they have become. “Remember to seize every opportunity you can and embrace challenges wherever you find them,” Lyles said.

She also encouraged them to remain involved in their communities. “Will you pledge today to continue in the path of community service? I know I do,” she said.

Prior to commencement, graduates gathered with families, posed for pictures and spoke of future plans.

Jessica Weesner of Cambridge City will begin a job in October as a staff accountant with Pioneer Oil in Lawrenceville, Ill. Reflecting on graduation, the accounting major said, “It feels unbelievable and I’m very honored to be graduating.”

Her mother, Debbie Weesner, looked on as her daughter posed for pictures by the Scott College of Business sign on Cherry Street. “It’s very exciting. We couldn’t be prouder. She’s always given everything 150 percent,” Debbie Weesner said.

Joe Zeedyk of Grayslake, Ill., who graduated with a degree in sport management, will work with Adidas during the summer and then move to Miami to work with the Miami Dolphins foundation during football season.

He’s considering graduate school in fall of 2015, but “that’s a ways out, and time will tell,” he said.

Reacting to his graduation, he said, “It’s wonderful. A privilege. A college degree still means the world.” He praised his professors and advisers.

His mom, Deborah Zeedyk, said, “I couldn’t be more proud. This was the perfect school for him.” He found good friends in his fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, and he graduated with a 3.3 GPA. “He has landed his dream opportunity with an NFL team,” she said.

Cassandra Guarino, an elementary education major who is also a Terre Haute North Vigo graduate, said she’s proud of what she’s accomplished.

“I’ve had a lot of challenges over the past four years,” she said. She has a physical disability, and ISU, although “they work really diligently, have some difficulties with accessibility, so it’s been a little challenging.”

Reflecting on her imminent graduation, she was a little bit in “shock. It didn’t really sink in until I woke up this morning that I am graduating,” she said. “It doesn’t feel real until you are in the full regalia and you are standing here.”

She is changing career plans and will apply this summer to a continued studies program at New York University. She hopes one day to attend medical school and has a goal of being a pediatrician.

She’s pleased with her ISU education. “It’s been an excellent experience. It’s an excellent school. I’ve had a lot of opportunities here,” Guarino said.

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

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