Saturday, May 10, 2008

Commencement celebrates exciting and surprising journey

By Courtney Westlake

Life has a way of surprising us.

That was the theme of the speech from student commencement speaker Denean Vreeland as she spoke to her fellow graduates, celebrating their common commitment, college career and all of the surprises along the way.

Hundreds of graduates gathered in their robes and gowns on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, May 10, to receive their hard-earned diplomas in the presence of their proud friends and families with happy tears and beaming smiles across their faces.

Years of dedication and hard work culminated into an exciting and emotional ceremony celebrated by the graduates, many members of the UIS community and people from around the country and world.

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke served as the commencement keynote speaker, and UIS Chancellor Richard Ringeisen and University President B. Joseph White also gave remarks during the ceremony. White challenged the graduates sitting before him to be people of high integrity and professionals of high integrity.

“This is the happiest day of the academic calendar; I’m so happy to be able to share it with you,” White said. “I want to congratulate the graduates, and I want to thank all of the families and friends for all of their support and sacrifices. It’s really taken your love and support to get all of the graduates here.”

Vreeland, who received her degree in math and will be teaching the subject at Pawnee High School, said she was extremely excited to be chosen as the student speaker and could hardly believe her graduation day had finally arrived.

“It’s so exciting to be at the end,” she said right before the graduation ceremony. “This thing I have anticipated for so long is finally here. I really had a tremendous experience at UIS.”

Vreeland's speech was a surprise to her parents, who were in attendance. With the element of surprise being the focus of her presentation, she urged her audience not to equate surprise as being unprepared or naive.

“Each of us today has worked hard to reach this moment in our lives. For most of us, it has required careful planning and dedication,” she said. “Despite these carefully laid plans, though, I am certain each of us has encountered our share of surprises. Speaking from a later season of life, I can tell you there are always surprises ahead.”

Vreeland acknowledged the online learning at UIS, noting that she was rarely physically present on campus but was grateful for the opportunity to study and take classes online, while still feeling like she was an important part of the university. She encouraged her fellow students, both online and on-campus, to explore new possibilities and “not be afraid to open new doors.”

“Those areas least explored are sometimes those that hold the most wonderful surprises,” Vreeland said. “Our professors here at UIS have given us the tools we need to succeed. We have learned how to understand problems and come up with our own solutions. They have encouraged us to think critically and independently.”

And when it comes to planning for the future, Vreeland quoted a sentence from actor Steve Carell’s character in “Dan in Real Life” when he says “Maybe we should tell them this...plan to be surprised.”

“As we leave this ceremony today, no matter what your plans, I invite you to look for and embrace all of life's surprises,” Vreeland said.