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Graduate Commencement speaker encourages Class of 2019 to find their purpose [PHOTOS]

David Nguyen receives Outstanding Graduate Faculty Award; Steven Evans named Distinguished Professor

Ohio University conferred about 900 master’s and doctoral degrees during its 2019 Graduate Commencement ceremony Friday, May 3, in the Convocation Center on the Athens Campus.

This year’s keynote speaker was 2018 Outstanding Graduate Faculty Award recipient Dr. Michael Sweeney, a professor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and associate director for graduate studies.

A veteran newspaper journalist, media source, book author and OHIO alumnus, Dr. Sweeney was described by his students as a “knowledgeable, empathetic and inspiring faculty member,” and someone who “goes out of his way to help students and makes them a top priority.”

Dr. Sweeney started his speech by telling the audience that he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in August 2014 and that he was going to treat today’s talk as if it was his last lecture.

“I’m happy. My sickness has made me appreciate things. Having cancer, in a weird way, has been a blessing,” Dr. Sweeney said. “It wakes you to the glory of each new day because you don’t know how many days you have. All of us, sick or well, should be doing that.”

Dr. Sweeney told the graduates to marry the knowledge and skills they have achieved in college with a purpose.

“I can’t supply your purpose. You must figure it out for yourself,” Dr. Sweeney said. “It may take you years. I did not find mine until I was in my 30s.”

He also urged the graduates to connect to something powerful and invisible, an abstract greater than themselves.

“Because if you do you will never wake up disgusted about going to work. Each new day will excite you,” Dr. Sweeney said. “Life is not a paycheck. And whatever you do, you will do it well, because it will be in harmony with your deepest, inner self. I know this to be true. I changed careers because the discipline of my major was not connecting me with the electric currents of life.”

He even found time to have some fun by imitating Bob Dylan and asking the audience to repeat the singer’s famous line three different times, “But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

Dr. Sweeney concluded his speech by giving the graduates some final advice.

“It’s not the quantity of life that matters. All life is too short. It’s the quality. Find a way to make your life count for others, and it will count for you,” Dr. Sweeney said.

2019 Outstanding Graduate Faculty Award winner announced

Executive Vice President and Provost Dr. Chaden Djalali announced that Dr. David Nguyen, assistant professor in the Patton College of Education, was the recipient of this year’s 2019 Outstanding Graduate Faculty Award.

Established in 1972, the Outstanding Graduate Faculty Award recognizes an OHIO professor who has demonstrated exemplary performance as an instructor, researcher and faculty member.

Dr. Nguyen was described by his students as “innovative and engaging,” “focused on helping his students grow and reach their full potential” and “positively impacting the intellectual landscape of Ohio University.” His teaching and research interests focus on access and equity issues in postsecondary education.

As the 2019 Outstanding Graduate Faculty Award recipient, Dr. Nguyen will deliver the keynote address at the 2020 Graduate Commencement.

2019 Distinguished Professor announced

President Nellis announced that Dr. Steven Evans is the 2019 recipient of the University’s highest academic honor, Distinguished Professor. 

Established in 1959, the Distinguished Professor Award recognizes scholarly accomplishment, professional reputation and contribution to the University. Recipients of the award receive a lifetime designation, one semester of professional leave and the privilege of naming one undergraduate student annually to receive a Distinguished Professor Scholarship.

Dr. Evans is a professor of psychology, the co-director of the Center for Intervention Research in Schools and the founding editor of the journal “School Mental Health.” He began his career as an elementary school special education teacher, but now develops and evaluates school mental health interventions to help youth with emotional and behavioral problems.

University awards two honorary degrees

President Nellis presented honorary Doctor of Science degrees to Dr. Robert Kirshner and alumnus Dr. Venkatraman “Venki” Ramakrishnan.

A world-renown astronomer, Dr. Kirshner was presented an honorary Doctor of Science degree for his groundbreaking contributions in the physics of exploding stars seen as supernovae, supernova remnants, the large-scale structure of the cosmos and the use of supernovae to measure the expansion of the universe.

Dr. Ramakrishnan, a 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry awardee, was honored for being a versatile and innovative scientist who has fundamentally advanced our understanding of the ribosome, the molecular machine that builds proteins from amino acids in every living cell, using information contained in DNA.

Michael Sweeney

Dr. Michael Sweeney, 2018 Ohio University Outstanding Graduate Faculty Member, points to the sky when describing the words of Plato during his speech at Graduate Commencement. He is an OHIO alumnus and professor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.  

Steve Evans and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan

The 2019 Distinguished Professor Steve Evans (left) poses for a photo with 2019 honorary degree recipient and Nobel Prize winner Venkatraman "Venki" Ramakrishnan (right). 

International Students

Ohio University Center for International Studies students pose for a photo before the start of the Graduate Commencement ceremony began on Friday, May 3.

Voinovich School students pose

Ohio University Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs students take a selfie at Graduate Commencement on May 3, 2019. 

Alison Brittain

Graduate student Alison Brittain is hooded by her Ph.D. adviser Dr. John Kopchick during Friday's ceremony. 


Wanru Zhao

Graduate student Wanru Zhao smiles as she prepares to participate in the 2019 Graduate Commencement ceremony. 

Nellis and Scholl

Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis and Chair of the University's Board of Trustees David Scholl react to a funny comment by honorary degree recipient Dr. Robert Kirshner during Graduate Commencement.

Rekam Giri introduces family to adviser

Graduate Rekam Giri (center) introduces his Ph.D. adviser Dr. Carl Brune to his family members following the May 3 Graduate Commencement ceremony.  

Claudia Coffey

Graduate Claudia Coffey shows her excitement after receiving her master's degree at the 2019 Graduate Commencement.

Dr. Kirshner and administration

World-renowned astronomer, Dr. Robert Kirshner (holding degree) received an honorary degree at Graduate Commencement ceremonies. (L-R): Executive Vice President and Provost Dr. Chaden Djalali, President Dr. M. Duane Nellis, Dr. Kirshner, Chair of Ohio University Board of Trustees Dr. David Scholl.

Candace Lamb, master’s degree in reading education from the Patton College of Education, Middletown, Ohio:

“I’m really excited to graduate. I’ve been here for five years so it’s kind of sad to actually leave. I’m hoping to find an English teaching job near my hometown now. I’ll miss Athens because of the food, beauty of the city and the friendliness of the people.”

Amber Gibson, master’s degree in reading education from the Patton College of Education, Eaton, Ohio:

Gibson said she moved to Athens after spending about 14 years teaching school in San Diego, Calif. The married mother of three children said she met her husband, Dewan, at an OHIO alumni event in San Diego.

“My program was rigorous and it really challenged me. I plan to continue teaching at the Columbus Torah Academy, but may eventually move back to San Diego. I hope that this degree allows me to become a literacy coach or a reading specialist.”

Brendon Embry, master’s degree in political science from the College of Arts and Sciences, Centerville, Ohio:

“For me this is a really special moment. I’ve been here for six years because I also earned my undergraduate degree here in journalism. My parents met here and my sister goes to school here, so this is more than a degree for me – this is my family, a home away from home. This is a nice fitting end to probably the greatest chapter of my life. Now I want to work at the Ohio Statehouse or with a lobbying firm with the hope to give back to the people of the state and take what I’ve learned and make the world a better place.”

Spencer Cappelli, master’s degree in Spanish, Strongsville, Ohio:

“It’s great to be done with this degree – it went so fast. It was a great experience teaching classes and doing research. I came here as a freshman in fall 2013, so Athens feels like home. It’s going to be bizarre leaving. It was an awesome experience. I’m going to Guatemala this summer to work for a non-profit as a communications officer for 13 months. After that I want to work for the government for a few years and maybe attend law school in the future.”

Ariana Brown, master’s degree of in law and society, Columbus, Ohio:

“I’m going to be doing child advocacy work for high-risk children with Franklin County Children Services. I’ve been here for five years because I did my undergraduate degree here also, so I’ll definitely miss my friends in Athens.”