By BOB JACKSON
In challenging a graduating class from Youngstown State University for the last time, President Dr. David Sweet took a page from one of his favorite novels, “Don Quixote,” and urged 1,000 students to reach for their dreams, even if they seem impossible.
Dr. Sweet, who will retire June 30 after 10 years as YSU president, said he keeps a framed picture of Don Quixote on the wall in his office as inspiration. Because it was the last time he will preside over a graduation, he had requested that “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of LaMancha” be performed during Saturday’s spring commencement ceremony in YSU’s packed Beeghly Center.
During his remarks to the morning commencement for undergraduate students, Sweet said he has had a wide range of experiences during his 40-plus years in public service. But one constant, he said, “Is people making the seemingly impossible come true. They dedicate themselves, work hard, and overcome barriers.”
Throughout his tenure at YSU, Sweet said he has seen people come to the university from all walks of life, looking for ways to improve their situations, and go on to flourish in successful careers.
“YSU offered hope to them all, and through persistence they now offer hope to others,” Sweet said. “For our graduates today, keep on dreaming the impossible dream.”
That theme fit perfectly for Jennifer Edwards, a graduating senior who had been selected to give the traditional student remarks during graduation. Edwards, a married mother of four , had worked as a waitress for more than 20 years to help supplement her family’s income before she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005.
Devastated at first by the diagnosis, Edwards said she decided to “seize the day,” and pursue her life’s goal of becoming a social worker. She maintained a 4.0 grade-point average and graduated Saturday with a bachelor’s degree in social work.
“I live my life with ‘seize the day’ as my creed because I am a cancer survivor,” Edwards said.
Sherri Ramsey, also a wife and mother of four, graduated Saturday with a bachelor’s degree in political science. The 33-year-old Warren woman said she next intends to enroll in law school, something she has always wanted to pursue.
“That was my plan a long time ago,” she said, explaining that her dream of a law degree was put on hold after she got married and had a family. She has worked the past 11 years in the banking industry for 7/17 Credit Union, and hopes to someday use her law degree in the finance industry.
“This was a struggle, but I did it,” Ramsey said of pursuing her degree while working and raising a family.
Joe Kent Jr., 32, of Youngstown’s West Side, said he plans to return to New York City, where he once worked as manager of Legacy Recording Studios in Manhattan. Kent graduated with a bachelor’s degree in general studies, with emphasis on music and psychology. He came back to Youngstown about three years ago and enrolled at YSU, but said he’ll probably go back to the Big Apple in the fall and look for work again somehow connected to the recording industry.
While Kent is headed east, Kassandra Shaffer of Hubbard is going the opposite direction. The 24-year-old, who received a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management, said she will relocate to San Diego, Calif., to look for a job.
“I think there’s more opportunity for growth out there, in that profession,” said Shaffer, who said she wants to someday either own or manage a West Coast resort or hotel.
Brianne Ciccone, 22, of Struthers, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, and said she will return to YSU in the fall to begin working toward a master’s degree in industrial engineering.
Ciccone said she currently works for Summer Garden Food Manufacturing in Boardman, and will continue working there during the summer. She was not sure what the future will hold after she obtains her graduate degree.
“I’m just going to play it by ear and see,” she said. “I like the food industry, and pharmaceuticals is an option. There are a lot of [career] opportunities around here or in areas not too far from here.”
Darnell Holmes said he drove back and forth to YSU from his home in Canton while pursuing his education. He graduated Saturday with an associate degree in general studies, which he hopes to somehow use in working with kids, possibly as a counselor.
“It’s hard coming up out there these days,” said Holmes, 43, who once lived in Hubbard, “Things are rough.”
The keynote speaker for the ceremony was U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-17th of Niles, who was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree.
During his remarkss, Ryan urged the graduates to seek happiness, but to be sure that they base their pursuit of happiness only on things that truly bring them inner joy, and not on what marketing and other external sources try to sell as happiness.
“Don’t try to base your happiness on what someone else tells you should make you happy,” Ryan said. “That’s their story, not yours. You have your own story.”
He also challenged the class of 2010 to begin changing the world by first checking their own attitudes and actions.
“If you want to change the world, you need to change yourself,” Ryan said. “If you want the world to be a happier place, you be happier. If you want the world to be a kinder place, you be kinder.”