May 24th, 2016 @ 11:03 am | Author: Tisa Mason, Ed.D., CAE
Our 124th spring commencement exercises was a day of pure joy. As we celebrated the accomplishments of our students, we were also blessed with remarks from three great speakers: alumnus Greg Stemen ’88 brought greetings from the State Board of Higher Education; Louis da Vinha, Ph.D., our 2016 Teacher of the Year, shared thoughts from his faculty perspective; and graduating senior Malik Jackson delivered remarks that capture the essence of VCSU. Below are excerpts from Malik’s remarks that I’d like to share with you.

Student Reflection: Malik Jackson ’16
I would like to give a special thanks to all my family who showed up here today.…Since day one we realized that things were not the same and within the next four years our lives would drastically change. We anticipated that first break of college where we could finally get back to doing absolutely nothing, be surrounded by loved ones, and, of course, those home-cooked meals. Even though we may not show it all the time, we appreciate everything that you do.

I would also like to recognize the families and friends local to this area who have welcomed us into their homes with open arms. It is not easy being away from our families for a long time, and you all know that. So I would like to give a special thanks to those close friends that make you feel like this is your second home. I can’t even count how many times I have been invited over to someone’s house to spend a holiday or break, or even how many times the school has provided us with meals for the holidays. Not just a cheap dinner—I’m talking about an actual home-cooked meal from the faculty and staff. Without your love and support, I feel that it is safe to say that this path we chose to take would be more difficult.

There was one instance about two years ago where there were maybe six or seven of us who were still on campus for Christmas break. The faculty and staff, being as great as they are, set up a small table in the middle of the Student Center next to the Christmas tree where we all sat, ate, and talked over a nice lunch. They even handed us huge bags of presents, and it’s moments like that I will remember forever and am truly grateful for.

I remember when I was anticipating what college I was going to go to. I first started receiving letters from coaches in the early months of 2012. I had received a letter from a school in South Dakota already, and honestly my dad and I couldn’t help but laugh about it.

But one evening I received an email from some coach from a school called Valley City State University. Now what I saw was an email from a coach so of course I got excited, until I googled it. I looked over at my dad and said, “We got another one from the Dakotas!,” and we laughed. (I guess the joke’s on me because, well, I’m still here.)

But I started to do a little more research on this school, and all jokes aside, it was exactly what I was looking for—something the complete opposite of where I was. What turned out to be a joke ended up as an opportunity of a lifetime for me. I was just a kid who grew up in a big city who didn’t even know the Midwest existed, let alone that I would end up there. As time narrowed down to make my decision I chose to commit in what I believed was the best opportunity for me. It is a decision that changed my life, and one I will never regret.

The lesson that I learned that I would like to encourage you all to do is to take advantage of those opportunities that are presented to you throughout your life, no matter how small or ridiculous they may seem. You never know how they will impact your life. They may lead you down the right path or sometimes the wrong one, but it is better to learn from a mistake then miss out on an opportunity.

The opportunities that I took here at VCSU have led me to this very moment here on this stage today. I am proud to say that here I received my education, here is where I ran, here is where I was presented with more opportunities than I can count, here is where I was able to be a difference maker, here is where I found the most support, here is where I made lifelong friends, here is where my second family is, and here is my home away from home.

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Thank you to all of our speakers and especially to Malik Jackson who so eloquently captures why it is always a great day to be a Viking!