Graduate commencement offers cause to celebrate accomplishments
June 8, 2007
By Elizabeth Boyle and Mariel Jungkunz
Commencement is a time to honor and thank family, and as tradition dictates, before any degree can be awarded, the students must stand as a group and applaud those who supported them.
For one student, this morning's graduate commencement exercises at Ohio University offered one more opportunity to thank a family that not only encouraged her throughout her studies, but also accompanied her every step of the way.
Lailawati Salleh, her daughter and two sons -- originally from Malaysia -- all moved to Athens in 2002 so she could pursue a doctorate in organizational communication.
This year, three of them graduate from Ohio University; her sons, Abdurrahman and Fahmi Ibrahim, graduate Saturday with bachelor's degrees. Her daughter, Sajidah, earned a degree here last year.
"It's such a happy time," Salleh said as she smiled and posed for pictures with her children following the ceremony. "I have my husband here, my children, and I'm so happy to have so many people congratulate me."
She wasn't the only one who thanked her family today, as more than 600 candidates for master's and doctoral degrees gathered for the morning commencement.
Valerie Martin Conley, the 2006 Outstanding Graduate Faculty Award winner and an associate professor of counseling and higher education, offered the commencement address, emphasizing the role of supporters who help students push past roadblocks to an education.
Thinking back on the days she worked full-time while pursuing her doctorate, she concluded, "No one walks across this stage today alone." She thanked her own parents, adding to much applause, "Clarence Martin may have an eighth-grade education, but his daughter is a doctor."
Now the director of Ohio University's Center for Higher Education, Martin Conley urged the graduating students to become allies of higher education: "Ultimately the role you choose to play will also impact the future of this nation."
Following in Martin Conley's footsteps next year will be this year's Outstanding Graduate Faculty Award recipient Julie Owens, an assistant professor of psychology, whom Executive Vice President and Provost Kathy Krendl recognized during the ceremony.
Other awards acknowledged today included the Outstanding Graduate Student Leaders: William Tarter Jr., a master's graduate in public administration, and Nihar Shah, an industrial and manufacturing systems engineering doctoral graduate. Both students contributed to Graduate Student Senate in addition to their dedication in the classroom.
The recipient of an honorary doctor of laws degree awarded at today's ceremony, Chief Ken Nnamani reflected on Ohio University's influence in his life. The two-time Ohio University graduate has been a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria since 1998 and is a longtime promoter of self-help programs that augment governmental resources there.
"I will remain grateful for a lifetime," he said of receiving the honor. Among the graduates sitting on the Convo floor in their brightly colored hoods were many celebrating milestones within their academic areas. This marks the first year the university has awarded the master of financial economics, master of science in nursing and doctor of audiology degrees.
It also is the first year the university graduated Ohio University Eastern Campus master of social work students. And this year's class also included the university's 100th master of social work degree recipient, President Roderick J. McDavis said, noting that the Department of Social Work established the degree program in 2001.
"Whatever your path, each of you has brought unique characteristics and special talents to Ohio University, and you have made our university richer by your presence," McDavis told the graduates.
Looking back across her time at Ohio University just before she walked into the Convocation Center, Veronica Makwinja, who earned a doctorate in education, remembered a slow start to her degree work. After her first quarter of classes in 2001 - and pregnant with twins - she was placed on bedrest for six months. She returned to campus in 2002 and completed her degree work in February.
Soon, she'll return to her now-5-year-old daughters in Botswana, where she will lecture at the University of Botswana. She recalls long nights studying and getting up early to care for the girls, whom she named Tiiso and Tiisetso, meaning "strength" and "more strength."
"I needed all the perseverance to juggle the challenges I was faced with," she says. "This is one of the best days of my life."