Blake Hudson, the student speaker at the University of Illinois Springfield's Saturday commencement ceremony, said people should stop seeing barriers as obstacles and instead view them as opportunities.
"The opportunities we are looking for in life — to serve, to be involved, to be great as individuals and a generation — they really come to us as obstacles," Hudson said prior to delivering his speech. "Sometimes it's a messy river you have to clean up. When you do that, you pursue something that is bigger than yourself."
Hudson, 24, of Zion, was one of more than 950 undergraduate and graduate students who participated in UIS' commencement ceremony at the Prairie Capital Convention Center.
More than 1,600 students were eligible to participate.
UIS had 740 students participate in last year's commencement ceremony, and 777 students took part in 2013.
Chancellor Susan J. Koch said Saturday's ceremony was the biggest in the history of the university, and it also marked the largest graduating class.
"We've had an emphasis on growth for the last four years," Koch said. "What that means is the strategies we are using to grow the campus, such as implementing new majors and various recruitment efforts, are really working. I think that as the reputation of the campus increases, that brings more people … both at the undergraduate and graduate level."
Hudson earned his bachelor's degree in communication and political science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After graduation, he came to Springfield through the Illinois Legislative Staff Internship Program and worked with the Senate Republican staff.
He liked the Springfield area, and decided to enroll at UIS to pursue a master's degree in public administration.
As for the obstacles he had to overcome, Hudson talked about his early years growing up in the northern suburbs of Chicago. His father wasn't around, his school wasn't that great, and other kids made fun of him because he "talked too smart."
"Before Zion, I grew up in North Chicago. It was a dangerous environment. My house got broken into. I could have made one wrong turn and ended up on a very different path in life," Hudson said. "But it was understanding that the situation I lived in, it didn't have to define me. It may explain me, but it didn't have to define me."
Hudson said that one thing he's learned is that no matter where you are in life, you are always in charge of your attitude. He pointed to a quote from Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl: "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
In addition to containing a lot of accomplished graduates, Koch said this year's senior class has been a lot of fun.
"When I think about them, I think about our Springfest event, which is our biggest social event of the year," Koch said. "It was spectacular this year. We had more students than ever participating.
"It really shows that the life of the campus continues to grow," she said. "That is very exciting because students come to the university to earn their University of Illinois degree, but they also come looking to have a comprehensive student experience."
Online students part of ceremony
Saturday's ceremony included 64 students who graduated from the university's online program.
The online students came from 16 states, including California and New York.
This story appeared online in The State Journal-Register on May 16, 2015.
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