Veteran, education major to give YSU commencement student addressees

By Amanda Tonoli


Two exceptional students will give the student addresses at Youngstown State University’s Saturday commencement ceremonies.

Rachel Emerson, daughter of Melanie and the late Dr. Scott Emerson, of Leetonia, will give the 9:30 a.m. ceremony address. She will be graduating with a degree in middle childhood education with a concentration in math and science and a minor in art.

Ryan Portela of Little Ferry, N.J., will give the 2:30 p.m. ceremony address. He is a veteran and carries a double major in political science and geography.

Emerson said her speech isn’t actually about her or her life.

“Partly because, who wants to hear someone talk about themselves and their accomplishments for five minutes?” she asked. “Also because any accomplishment I may have so far isn’t really mine, but [it’s] the people who [have] loved me and pushed me through the best and worst times of my life. And if I was going to tell everyone about all of those people, we would be there all day.”

During her time at YSU, Emerson said one aspect she recognized as positive in herself is her constant need to grow as a person.

“I want everyone to feel this way, not just the graduates,” she said. “I want everyone in the room to take something away from it. My speech is more of advice and encouragement from a not-so-expert human, who has experienced both the very best life has to offer and the worst in my 24 years of life, and somehow made it through with the help of others and the will to get better at life every day.”

Portela’s take on graduating is a little different. To start, he said he didn’t think he could afford to go to college and wasn’t necessarily the best student.

“So I decided to join the Army,” Portela explained.

And in that, Portela said his time in the military helped him understand why education is important.

“It really gave me the direction I needed,” he said. “I think overall, the Army helped give me the confidence and maturity needed to excel in school. On top of that, the Post 9/11 GI Bill paid for my college education, and allotted me a monthly stipend to pay for my expenses.”

The GI Bill provides educational assistance to service members, veterans and their dependents, according to

“It wasn’t an easy decision to leave home at 18, but I’m really happy I did,” Portela said. “Speaking at graduation means a lot to me because I finally get to receive the education I’ve always desired. I will always cherish my time at YSU. I was able to find a life after the Army, and I feel confident to take the next step. The veteran community here on campus really became a second family to me. For that, I’m really grateful.”

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