Redefining the Classroom

LSSU adds another 500 to its alumni ranks

Posted: May 1st, 2011

Read about LSSU's eco-friendly commencement robes here.

Various scenes from Friday and Saturday's commencement activities can be found by clicking here.

A story on the Distinguished Teaching Award is here.

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – More than 500 graduates were asked to remember how privileged they are and to be thankful for their successes as they received 642 degrees and certificates during commencement ceremonies today at Lake Superior State University.

The program included the announcement of psychology professor H. Russell Searight as recipient of the LSSU Distinguished Teaching Award and featured alumna Sophie Chandauka of London, England as speaker, along with student respondent Shelby LaBuhn of Ubly, Mich.

LSSU President Tony McLain welcomed graduates and told them to savor the moment and remember those who helped them get where they are today.

"I've had the pleasure of addressing graduates on a number of occasions through the years," McLain said. "Savor the moment. I'm sure many of you feel that your time here has flown by. Take a moment to take it all in and reflect on the significance of the occasion."

McLain noted that LSSU graduates and graduates everywhere in the country are part of a privileged few among the billions of people in the world who haven't had the opportunity to further their education.

"When you flip your tassel from right to left, it may not seem like much, but that simple act carries a great significance," he said. "You all have the responsibility to help ensure that the opportunities extended to you by your family and friends will continue for future generations. Once you flip that tassel, much more will be expected of you. Good luck."

Class Respondent Shelby LaBuhn

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McLain introduced commencement speaker Sophie Chandauka, a native of Zimbabwe, as "someone we are proud to call our own." Chandauka graduated with a political science degree from LSSU in 2000 and was the student respondent at that ceremony 11 years ago.

Chandauka, now a senior associate with world-renown Baker & McKenzie flew from London to speak at commencement. Describing herself as a proud graduate of LSSU, she told graduates, "What we celebrate today is in no small measure a part of the American dream." She challenged graduates to be bold in their accomplishments and "manifest your own destiny."

"My interpretation of the American dream is not just having plenty of material success," she said. "It is a state of mind, it is a journey…I'm well aware of what the financial crisis has done to people in this country and other parts of the world, but you have to start somewhere and design your life plan from there. What's the point of designing a new chapter in your life based on pessimistic theories or assumptions?"

Commencement Speaker Sophie Chandauka

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Chandauka, who came to North America to study in the mid-1990s through a Rotary International program, thanked America "for providing me with a privileged education." She offered seven tips for graduates that she said helped her get where she is today, including:

Know your strengths "Find out what you are good at, capitalize on your strengths and make a career out of that."

Get in touch with your feminine side "I know, here I am in deer hunting country telling you to get in touch with your feminine side…My point is that so much rides on how perceptive and emotionally intelligent you are in reading people in situations around you…Emotional intelligence in our times is absolutely key."

Get smart "Hard work and determination alone do not guarantee success. Build and utilize networks."

Mind your manners! "It's very important to remember that everyone in an organization is to be treated professionally and with respect, no matter what their job titles are."

Find your person "Treasure your friends and family. Some people think they can get through life without anyone, but everyone needs someone. Surround yourself with people who understand you, who will be positive influences. Be good to others. Don't burn bridges."

Mistakes are essential"There will be times when you make mistakes. If not, they you are probably not learning very much. Acknowledge your errors along the way and quickly recover from them."

Do 'You' "If you live your life for others and allow others to direct your priorities, you will be very unhappy…There will be times when have to improvise and take a job for the meantime, to pay the bills. Use it as a stepping stone. Keep plugging away to achieve your ultimate goal."

Chandauka concluded by saying, "There is no doubt that you are graduating in austere times, with so much hanging in balance. However, at every stage in the history of this nation, when we have been threatened with danger, prosperity has been on the horizon…Get out there, get networking. You are the future of this community, of this nation, of the world."

LSSU Vice President of Student Affairs Ken Peress introduced student speaker Shelby LaBuhn who, like Chandauka, stressed the importance of remaining positive in what could be tough times. LaBuhn graduated summa cum laude and is headed to study in the freshwater sciences doctoral program at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

"As an environmental chemistry major, a lot of people have asked me, 'What are you going to do with that?' My typical response is, 'Save the world.' I’m sure that’s what all of us want to do with our degrees…You don’t have to have aspirations of being president, a world leader, or saving the world. You just have to be willing to stand up for what you believe in and to use your education for the best."

LaBuhn continued, "Be confident, stand tall, and speak your mind. Lake Superior State University has given us the tools to do just that. We have had the opportunity to interact with our superiors on a personal basis -- debated, questioned and maybe even argued with them. We have pointed out their mistakes, and they have pointed out many more of ours. Graduates at other universities may not have had these same opportunities, so use them to your advantage."

LaBuhn continued the theme of privilege and responsibility mentioned by McLain and Chandauka.

"Today’s world isn’t pretty…it’s actually quite intimidating, considering the economy, the environment and government problems. The world has had quite a number done on itself…As educated adults we have an advantage many people around the world do not and a responsibility to ourselves and future generations to do something worthwhile with our education…None of us did it alone. Always thank your family, friends and mentors who helped you along the way."

LaBuhn concluded her speech with words from emeritus chemistry professor William Haag, who wrote, "In chemistry, as with most things in life, you don’t understand unless you ask questions, you aren’t learning until you make mistakes and you aren’t working until you break something. So go ahead, ask a lot of questions, make a few mistakes and break some test tubes."

The program included remarks from LSSU Alumni Director Susan Fitzpatrick, who welcomed graduates to the ranks of more than 28,000 alumni and urged them to keep in touch. It also featured the attendance of graduates of the Sault Ste. Marie Branch of the Michigan College of Mining and Technology from more than 50 years ago, and State Representative Frank Foster.

Graduates were guided into the ceremony by the pipes and drums of the Duncan Family of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., who have been a part of every LSSU commencement ceremony. The new alumni were ushered out of the arena the same way they have been for the past 20 years or so, to an Honor Song with the beat of Native American drums. This year, the drummers were AAbizii of Brimley, Mich. The Canadian and U.S. national anthems were sung by LSSU social studies and secondary education major Peter DeKraker of McBain, Mich. -LSSU-

CONTACT: Tom Pink, 906-635-2315,; John Shibley, 635-2314,