By Bob Jackson
“Breathe in, breathe out. Move on.”
That quote from legendary recording artist Jimmy Buffett was emblazoned across the top of the mortarboard of Celeste Chance as she prepared to enter the next phase of her life.
Chance, 50, was among the 400 people who received degrees Saturday during summer commencement ceremonies at Youngstown State University’s Beeghly Center. It’s become a motto for the life of the Buffett fan.
“I wanted to accomplish this before I turned 50,” she said. “I just made it.”
Chance said she received her associate’s degree in early childhood education some 10 years ago, and has been chipping away ever since at moving to the next level. On Saturday she received her bachelor’s degree in general studies. Now it’s time to move forward.
“I’m feeling awesome and excited,” the giddy graduate said just before the ceremony began. “I couldn’t be prouder of myself. It’s a big accomplishment.”
Chance said she’s been a preschool teacher at the Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership for 13 years, and plans to stay there.
“My job requires teachers to have a bachelor’s degree, so I really needed to do this,” she said.
Like Chance, graduate Melanie Batcho of Mineral Ridge also has a job, where she plans to stay for the time being, working as a part-time secretary and human-resources assistant at the Vista Centre in Boardman. She hopes to eventually move upward.
“I’ll be full-time there for now, but I would like to eventually work as a hospital [human-resources] manager,” the 23-year-old said. “I’ll definitely have to work my way up to that.”
Batcho, a graduate of Mineral Ridge High School, received a bachelor’s degree in human-resource management with a concentration in health care. Working in a hospital or health-care facility will help her combine her two passions.
“I like the field of healthcare, but I also like the whole process of HR management,” she said. “The process of hiring and training employees is appealing to me. Of course there’s a downside, like having to fire people, which would not be pleasant, but it’s something that I really want to do.”
She hopes to land a job in this area but said she’ll be willing to relocate if necessary.
Like many graduates these days, Batcho is leaving school with a hefty student loan debt. She owes some $26,000 that she borrowed to fund her education.
“That’s the price of a nice car,” she said. “It’s going to be tough to pay it back, but at least I have a job so I can start working on it.” She feels for those graduates who owe similar amounts, or more, but have not yet secured a job to help them begin paying off the debt.
For Terri Venable Bryant, who received a bachelor’s degree in business administration, the next stop is Columbus, where she’ll pursue a master’s degree in public administration. She hopes to then work for a public accounting firm, but ultimately wants to move on to work with a nonprofit agency of some sort.
“I want to give back to the community,” the 42-year-old said. “Empowering people — that’s what I like to do.”
Joe Trimber, 35, an art teacher at LaBrae Inter- mediate School, said he chose YSU to pursue his master’s degree in art education, which he received Saturday, because he wanted the interpersonal class- room experience.
“It was a lot of work, but I didn’t want to go the online route. It’s not fulfilling enough,” he said.
Like Batcho, Trimber said he’ll now have to begin repaying the student loans that paid for his degree. Although his debt isn’t as high, he said the student loan burden is “wicked.”
“If you have a job, it’s not quite so much of a burden,” he said. “But for these kids who are coming out without a job, without means to pay back the money, it can be a heavy burden.”
The featured speaker Saturday was Alfred L. Bright, professor emeritus at YSU and an internationally renowned artist.
“I was hooded [with a doctorate degree] here when I was 24,” Bright told the graduates. “Now I’m 73. I have served under every president of this university, and I am very proud of that.”
He encouraged graduates to “maximize your potential” and “treat your discipline as an art form” during a speech that was peppered with references and quotes from poets and artists such as Pablo Picasso, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes and Vincent Van Gogh.
He encouraged the graduates to be lifelong learners.
“This event is the capstone of my career, but it’s the beginning of yours,” he said. “You may be my last class, but not my last lesson.”
Saturday’s commencement was the first for new university President Randy Dunn, who took over in July, replacing Dr. Cynthia Anderson.