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Spring graduates celebrate successes

Business graduate Hannah Nguyen hugs her grandmother who traveled from Vietnam to attend this special occasion. Hannah met her grandmother for the first time just hours prior to today's ceremony. (Click on the photos on this page to go to Flickr images of Commencement 2012.)

Stetson University awarded degrees to 785 students during Spring Commencement ceremonies May 12 – celebrating years of hard work and sending the graduates into the working world or on to graduate school.

President Wendy B. Libby gave the “charge” – a tradition where the president places a duty and responsibility upon the graduates. Libby explained that a Stetson education assists you in moving from success to significance, and learning how you can be of service to the world. She read from an anthology of women’s poetry, “To Be of Use,” by Marge Piercy: “I want to be with people who submerge in the task…. The work of the world is common as mud. Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust. But the thing worth doing well done has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident…. The pitcher cries for water to carry and a person for work that is real.” Speaking directly to the 2012 graduates, Libby said, “My charge to you is for you to be of use.”

Of the Class of 2012 at the DeLand campus, 504 undergraduates received bachelor’s degrees and 281 students received graduate degrees. Spring Commencement includes all graduates who completed degree requirements in July 2011, December 2011 and May 2012.

Graduating seniors Jillian Masucci of Port Orange, Fla., representing the School of Business Administration; Sandra Perry of Apopka, Fla., representing the School of Music; and Alex Sanchez of Deltona, Fla., and Mariamne “Amne” Harrington of Orlando, Fla., representing the College of Arts & Sciences, addressed their fellow grads.

Several awards were presented, including the Etter McTeer Turner Award for outstanding academic performance, leadership and community service, which went to Dane Moran. The 2012 McEniry Award for Excellence in Teaching was presented to Biology Professor Terry Farrell.

Students were given a variety of honors during Commencement week, including five graduating seniors – Kristina Diaz, Arminda Lampitelli, Tabitha Marchbanks, Bryan McFadden and Tracy Ross, who were commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army.

The top leadership honor for graduating seniors, the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award – presented each year to the man and woman in the graduating class whose personal example and influence throughout the campus best exemplify the noblest human qualities and the finest values that Stetson nurtures – was presented at Honors Convocation on May 11. This year, the award went to Tyce Herrman and, in a tie, to Jillian Masucci and Maria Wrabel.

The following nine faculty members, retiring after this semester, were recognized for their many years of dedicated service to Stetson students and the institution:

  • Bruce Bradford, Professor of Geography and Environmental Science
  • Paul Dascher, Senior Professor of Accounting and Former Dean of the School of Business Administration
  • Dan Hale, Professor of Psychology
  • Anne Hallum, Professor of Political Science
  • Betty Johnson, Professor and Director of the duPont-Ball Library
  • Robert Leahy, Associate Professor of Teacher Education
  • Thomas Lick, Senior Professor of Physics
  • Neal Long, Senior Professor of Economics
  • Richard Wood, Senior Professor of Economics

This year’s recipients of Stetson University’s Hand Awards, provided through the generosity of Homer and Dolly Hand of Belle Glade, Fla., to honor Stetson’s outstanding faculty, were announced. This year there are two recipients of the Hand Award for Research, Creative and Professional Activity: Dr. Joel Davis, Associate Professor of English, and Dr. John York, Assistant Professor of Chemistry.

The Hand Community Impact Award, celebrating the achievements of faculty serving the needs of the community – the Stetson community as well as the community beyond our campus – was awarded to Dr. Anne Hallum, Professor of Political Science.

Commencement for the Stetson University College of Law was also held May 12, in Gulfport, Lt. Cmdr. Nieva M.S. Brock, who serves as staff judge advocate and ethics counselor to the director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), addressed the class. The College of Law had 317 graduates this spring.

Some of this spring’s outstanding graduates are:

Kristyn Behrends, 23, Glendale Heights, Ill.

Major: Psychology; Minor: Spanish, College of Arts & Sciences

What was your most enjoyable experience at Stetson?  One of the things I enjoyed most was a recent trip to Brazil as part of the Hollis Mentored Field Experience. We were able to travel throughout Brazil for three weeks with Political Science Professor and Chair Dr. William Nylen, who made sure that we were able to see as much of the beautiful country as possible. Everyone we met was so welcoming (and tolerant of my absolutely horrendous Portuguese!), and I plan to go back and visit one day.

Describe an event that has prepared you for the real world outside of Stetson. I grew up with two alcoholic parents. My father died of cirrhosis when I was 10. I grew up in a single-parent household while my mother battled her own problems with addiction. Due to the chaos that ensued, I moved out on my own at 17 years old. I spent my senior year of high school living in an apartment with friends, managing rent, utilities, cell phone bills, groceries, etc. I decided to move from Illinois to Florida after graduation. I lost touch with my mother during this time, and had to find ways to pay for college on my own. With various grants, loans and scholarships, I was able to cover most of my tuition. I’ve been working as a server/bartender for most of my college career, and for the past two years, paid some of my tuition of pocket, working doubles and extra shifts to make it work. It’s really been awesome. Although I’ve had to sacrifice a lot of my time, and have been unable to participate in many on-campus activities, I truly enjoy knowing that I am independent and can take care of myself.

How do you feel about graduation?  I am really excited to graduate. I feel very grateful for all of the opportunities I have had, and I doubt any other college would have provided me with such opportunities. My professors have been fantastic, truly brilliant and caring people. The Peace Corps has been my dream for many years, and I think Stetson has done an excellent job of preparing me for the challenges that lie ahead. 

What are your plans after Stetson?  I was officially invited to serve in the Peace Corps in mid-February. On June 5, I leave for Sierra Leone in West Africa to teach English for 27 months. While in Sierra Leone, I’d also like to do some work raising awareness about HIV/AIDS, the environment and also maybe even starting a Spanish club for students at my school. 


Keith Browning, 21, Lake Spivey, Ga.

Major: Music, Vocal Performance, School of Music

What are some highlights of your academic experience at Stetson?  Almost all of my highlights that I have experienced here at Stetson over the past 4 years have been all of the performances that I have been a part of. Whether it’s been something I was performing in myself or even listening. Our School of Music is comprised of some very rich and dynamic young performers. It’s satisfying to know that I am a part of this talented community of students.

What activities outside of the classroom were most important to you?  As cliché as it sounds, one of the most important things outside of the classroom to me was establishing great friendships and relationships. I say this because almost all of the people that I have become acquaintances or even friends with will not only help me in my career path, but they’ll also last a lifetime.

Any awards you’ve received during college?  I was awarded the William E. Duckwitz Talent Scholarship upon arrival to Stetson. I competed in the Southeastern Regional National Association of Teachers of Singing Competition and placed Runner-up in 2010. I also won First Prize in the Daytona Choral Society’s Vocal Competition that same year, and I placed 3rd in Stetson’s annual Harold Giffin Vocal Competition in 2011. I have also been invited to be a Young Artist with the Janiec Opera Company at the Brevard Music Center in Brevard, North Carolina last summer and this summer.

Any hardships you had to overcome during childhood and/or since you’ve been at Stetson?  The toughest hardship that I had to face while at Stetson was adjusting to not having my family around. I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, and I always had my family and friends close by. After moving 6 ½-7 hours away, I could only see them during the holidays or summer. Now looking back on it, the choice to move so far away from home helped me build my character and my independence. I believe that if I had stayed closer to home, my goals and aspirations would be limited because I wouldn’t have had the experience of being on my own.

What do you plan to do after graduation and in life?  I will be attending the University of Maryland as a member of the very prestigious Maryland Opera Studio in pursuit of my Master’s in Opera Performance. I was also awarded a Graduate Assistantship to UMD. My life goals are to be involved in opera in any form possible. Ultimately, I want to perform onstage.

Can you describe how you feel about your Stetson experience?  Stetson was a very rewarding experience for me. Although I am sad to be departing from this chapter in my life, I think of a saying I heard when I was preparing to graduate from high school: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”


Maria Dixon, 58, from DeLand, Fla.

Major: Psychology; Minor: Education, College of Arts & Sciences

What are some highlights of your academic experience at Stetson?  I enjoyed my senior research topic in the Psychology field- The Effect of Priming University Students for Internal or External Locus of Control on Positive or Negative Affect. I thoroughly enjoyed all of my professors as well.

What activities outside of the classroom were most important to you?  Psi Chi International Honor Society and Omicron Delta Kappa International Honor Society were important to me. Also, the volunteer work I did at Woodward Avenue Elementary School and the Mental Health Association of America.

Any awards you’ve received during college?  My present cumulative GPA is 3.666. Last term I earned a 4.0 for the Fall 2011 term. I transferred to Stetson in the Fall, 2009, and I have been on the Dean’s list Fall 2009, 2010 and 2011; and the Honor Roll Spring 2010 and 2011.

What do you plan to do after graduation?  I would like to work at Stetson as a professional tutor in the Academic Resources Center and earn a master’s degree at Stetson in English. 

Can you describe how you feel about your Stetson experience?  I feel Stetson’s motto “Pro Deo et Veritate” (for God and truth) describes my experience at Stetson. I want my life to be service to God and others which to me is the ultimate experience in truth.  God is the greatest Genius and Scientist there is. I wrote a poem entitled, “Freedom and the School System in the United States of America” for my Philosophy Project in my Social Foundations Education course with Dr. Cowell, for which I give God the credit and glory for giving me the ability to write.


Elizabeth Galafa, 22, Orlando, Fla. 

Major: Music, Vocal Performance, School of Music

What are some highlights of your career at Stetson?  I was the first prize winner of the Harold Giffin Scholarship Award, first prize winner Dorothea Waddell Tonneson Scholarship, first prize winner of the Wednesday Music Club Scholarship and second prize winner of N.A.T.S Southern Regional Competition. I was a member of Stetson’s Concert Choir for four years and I also participated in Stetson’s Opera Theatre for three.

Were there any hardships you had to endure here at Stetson?  I came into Stetson’s Music School with little to no musician skills. I could not do basic things like read music or play the piano; skills most students came in with. My freshman year was academically challenging and it took the help and support of many to help me succeed.

What are you going to do after graduation?  I will attend the University of Michigan to receive my Master’s degree in Vocal Performance and continue to pursue a career in opera performance.

How do you feel about your Stetson experience?  The closer graduation comes, the more surreal it feels. It doesn’t feel like it’s been four years because it went by so fast. I am happy and proud to be a Stetson graduate and if I could do it all over again, I would.


Maksim Levanovich, 22, Minsk, Belarus

Majors: Finance and International Business, School of Business Administration

What are some highlights of your academic experience at Stetson?  It is hard to highlight something specific that happened during these 4 years at Stetson, when I believe that all of these 4 years were the highlight of my life. My favorite class at Stetson was definitely Roland George program.

What activities outside of the classroom were most important to you?  As a member of the Stetson Tennis Team, athletics was as important as academics for me! Combining both academics and athletics, and succeeding in both of these areas at the same time was always my goal prior coming to college! My professors, people in the athletic department and of course, my coach Pierre Pilote, helped me tremendously to be successful in both of these areas. I greatly appreciate what they have done for me! In addition, I am Treasurer of Beta Alpha Psi, and a member of Beta Gamma Sigma and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

Any awards you’ve received during college?  A-Sun Player of the Year 2012; A-Sun Scholar-Athlete of the Year 2012; Achieved A-Sun All-Tournament Team 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012; Academic All-Conference Award 2010, 2011, 2012; Ranked #40 in NCAA Division I Men’s National Doubles Ranking 2011; Ranked #113 in NCAA Division I Men’s National Singles Ranking 2012; Recipient of R. Dale Melching Leadership Award 2011; Recipient of Wendell N. Jarrard Sr. Award for Excellence 2011; Recognized as a Scholar-Athlete of the Year 2010; Recipient of ITA Scholar-Athlete 2009, 2010, 2011.

What do you plan to do after graduation and in life?  My plan after graduation is to live and work in the United States. Even though my family is far away (Minsk,Belarus), the U.S. offers the enormous amount of opportunities for the young professionals, like myself, which my home country doesn’t. As for now, I am planning to start working in the banking industry starting in June. In a couple of years, I am planning to go back to school for my master’s degree.

Can you describe how you feel about your Stetson experience?  These four years at Stetson have been the most amazing years of my life! I have met many great people (including students, professors and university staff), who became my friends and helped me to achieve the goals that I had prior coming to Stetson. I am very excited and look forward to start the “real” and “serious” life after college! It is not going to be as “sweet” as the life of a college student, but I believe that I am definitely ready for it! There are still many goals that I am planning to accomplish in this life and I cannot wait to start getting closer to them by improving myself every day! 


Will Livingston, 21, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Major: Religious Studies; Minor: Gender Studies, College of Arts & Sciences

Who are some of your most memorable professors/faculty members? It’s been my honor to get close with four different faculty members in my time at Stetson:

  • Dr. Jamil Khader in the English Department took me under his wing early as his advisee.
  • Dr. Dixon Sutherland in Religious Studies allowed me to develop as both a scholar and a human being. Without him, I wouldn’t have such a clear sense of purpose moving forward.
  • Dr. Donald Musser taught my first year seminar and just got to me. He spoke my language and brought me out of a pretty dark place. Without Dr. Musser, I wouldn’t have allowed myself to ever be happy here.
  • Dr. Kaivola is the Associate Provost for Faculty Development, and only teaches one course a semester. She has a grace and wisdom that exceed practice or refinement. She is the living embodiment of what is great about our institution.

What activities outside of the classroom were most important to you? My time as a FOCUS Orientation Leader was a definite highlight of my experience. Getting to be part of such a tight-knit group of leaders and being allowed to be vulnerable and goofy and weird was a great boost to my self-confidence. My service in the Student Government Association is very important to me. I have been a Senator all three of my years and in my junior year I oversaw the election of the President and Vice President. Also, it’s been important to me to advocate for social justice.

Any awards you’ve received during college?  2011: I received the Junior of the Year award from the Religious Studies Department; Senator of the Year award from SGA; Social Justice Advocate award from the SGA; Committee Member of the Year from the Committee of Campus Life (SGA), 2012. I received the Senior of the Year award from the Religious Studies Department.

What do you plan to do after graduation and in life?  Vanderbilt University Divinity School offered me a full ride. I couldn’t refuse an offer like that! I’ll be pursuing my Master of Theological Studies degree with certification in Gender and Sexuality. Immediately after, I intend to enroll in a doctoral program in Religion. At this moment, I’m moving full steam ahead with the goal of studying Ethics and Society (hopefully also at Vanderbilt). I want to be a professor and an ethicist. Hopefully one day I’ll get a column, writing about bioethics and political intrigue.  


Kate Nadolny, 21, Belleview, Fla. 

Major: Music Education, Vocal, School of Music

What are some highlights of your academic experience at Stetson?  Every minute spent in a classroom or working with Dr. Maddox in lessons has been an amazing time. Some particular highlights are Sitzprobes (rehearsals with an orchestra the night before dress rehearsals for an opera) with Dr. Hose, Advanced Analysis with Dr. Painter, Voice Lesson with Dr. Maddox, Music History with Dr. Alfonso and Elementary Methods with Dr. Small.

What activities outside of the classroom were most important to you?  Sigma Alpha Iota, a fraternity for women in music, has been really important for me. I know I can go to any of my sisters in a time of need and they will be there for me. In particular for the past semester, the most important activity outside of the classroom was in a high school classroom for my internship. Those students are amazing. They have taught me to be a better teacher and a better person. For them, I am eternally grateful.

Any awards you’ve received during college?  Ruth E. Meinecke Endowment Grant, Earnest and Kate C. Music Scholarship, Tinsley Music Scholarship, Giffin Vocal Competition First Runner-Up, Sigma Alpha Iota Competition 2011 Winner, NATS Southeastern Division 3rd Year Voice First Runner-Up 2011.

Any hardships you had to overcome during childhood and/or since you’ve been at Stetson?  When I was eight months old, I started getting recurring ear infections which led to some minor hearing loss over the next two years. I did not learn how to speak until I was 3 years old with the help of a program called Easter Seals. I went through speech therapy until the age of 6. Since then, I worked very hard to speak and it’s still a challenge to this day… especially when it comes to learning new foreign languages for art songs.

What do you plan to do after graduation and in life?  In the fall, I will be attending the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to pursue a master’s degree in Vocal Performance under the tutelage of Stephen Lusmann. I hope this next step in life is the start of my performance career in the world of opera.

Can you describe how you feel about your Stetson experience?  My Stetson experience has been amazing. I have learned so much, not only about music, but about myself. I feel very prepared for the next stage in my life, and I know the friends I have here, both student and professor, are lifetime friends.  


Tuyet “Hannah” Nguyen, 23, Winter Haven, Fla.

Majors: International Business and Marketing, School of Business Administration 

What were some of your most rewarding experiences at Stetson?  When I took Dr. Greg McCann’s class on the Introduction to Family Business, it literally changed my life!  And, I loved working as a teacher’s assistant with Dr. Bill Andrews. Once I took Dr. Andrews’ class in Social Entrepreneurship, I worked my schedule so that I could be a student assistant to help him coordinate his recent spring break class trip to Cuba. At Stetson, I’ve realized that I have a unique passion for doing consulting work. It makes me happy to consult with organizations and help them develop sustainable blueprints. There’s also a number of professors/staff who have touched my life in ways words can’t express and I would like to give a special thanks to them: Dr. Scott Jones, Dr. Ted Surynt, Dr. Nancy Surynt, Dr. Maria Rickling, Dr. Carolyn Nicholson, and Dean Stuart Michelson.

Any hardships you had to overcome during childhood and/or since you’ve been at Stetson?  I’ve had a lot of ups and downs growing up at Stetson the last four years. I was very sick with a mysterious illness due to stress and not eating right. Everyone here has been amazing though, and the professors, staff, students, facilities crew – all helped nurse me back to heath. The LBC facilities custodians actually threw me a big party just a couple of weeks ago. They are so proud of me that I’ve successfully completed my undergraduate degree. My prayers are being answered all the time. I can now give back.

What do you plan to do after graduation and in life?  I plan to spend three months this summer in a social entrepreneurship internship in Costa Rica, CEPIA – Culture, Education, Psychology for Infants and Adolescents in Costa Rica, for building a sustainable blueprint for nonprofits there. (http://www.cepiacostarica.org/EN/). This internship is through the Sullivan Foundation—another branch of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation that Stetson already works with. Savannah-Jane Griffin invited me to attend a Sullivan retreat in North Carolina, and I loved it! I’d love to help start that specific program here at Stetson. I’ve just been accepted to the Americorps/VISTA program, so I’ll work at Stetson through that program. Ultimately, I plan to advocate against human trafficking.

Can you describe how you feel about your Stetson experience?  Whatever I do and wherever I go, I will never move away from Stetson in my heart. Stetson will always be my home, no matter what. “Everyone here has had an input into my success here… EVERYONE! Being here, I realized how much more there is for me to do in life. I just feel very passionate about my home. We are change-makers here. I always liked Stetson’s phrase, ‘where learning and values meet’. Stetson produces graduates who do so much with their lives. I’m inspired every day. Not only by faculty, but also by my peers. They’re all changing the world!


Amanda, 24, and James Kevin Nix, 32, DeLand, Fla.

Married couple, both earning an MBA, School of Business Administration

She is Stetson University Bonner Program Coordinator from Melbourne, Fla., with a BA in Sociology and Religious Studies ’09 and Master of Business Administration degree ’12. He is a chemistry and biology teacher at St. Barnabas Episcopal School, from Alexandria,Va., earning an MBA ’12. 

What are some highlights of your academic experience at Stetson?  Amanda: My favorite professor was Dr. Christopher Tobler; coming into the MBA program, I knew very little about finance and/or international business. Dr. Tobler’s course kept me on my toes and taught me all kinds of new information about currencies, options, futures and forwards.

Kevin: My favorite professor was Dr. Scott Jones, marketing. 

What activities outside of the classroom were most important to you?  

Amanda: The Bonner Program is the activity that has meant the most to me, both as an undergraduate and graduate student. After spending four years as a Bonner Scholar myself, I am now the staff member in charge of running the program. 

Any awards you’ve received during college?  

Amanda: Beta Gamma Sigma, J. D. Bond and Charles E. Bradley Award

Kevin: Beta Gamma Sigma 

What do you plan to do after graduation and in life?  

Amanda: I am going to pursue my Ph.D. in Sociology at Florida State University beginning fall 2012.

Kevin: I hope to be employed by the U.S. government. 

Can you describe how you feel about your Stetson experience? Amanda: This journey has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life! I am amazed every time I think back on what we’ve accomplished. Kevin and I completed our MBA while juggling full-time jobs and a new marriage (10/03/09). I am also feeling some nostalgia as we prepare for commencement. Stetson has become my family over the past seven years. I’ve lived in almost every residential hall (including the Service Station and Wesley House), had class in every building and met amazing people from every corner of campus. Kevin and I are sad to leave this community, but are excited for our next adventure inTallahassee.

Kevin: I’m very excited and proud that our hard work has paid off! I am also looking forward to continuing the Stetson legacy for my family. My grandmother graduated with her Master’s in Education. She lived in Chaudoin Hall, the same building that Amanda and I shared for the first year of our marriage.  

What’s it been like going to school with your spouse?   

Amanda: Going to school with Kevin has been a lot of fun! Because of his background in physics and mathematics, he is the best accounting and finance study buddy. While our approaches to academics and study habits are very different, I think that diversity has enriched our learning. Going to school together has also strengthened our relationship. We’ve learned to rely on one another in the tough times, and celebrate together in the good times. We also laugh because I’ll graduate first (A before J)!

Kevin: Amanda’s strong work ethic has kept me on track these past two years and helped me succeed in school.


Esther Saintil, 22, West Palm Beach, Fla.

Major: International Studies; Minor: Philosophy, College of Arts & Sciences

What are some highlights of your academic experience at Stetson?  Some highlights of my academic experience are Dr. Sapp’s first year seminar, “Intro to Logic” with Dr. Hall, Dr. Susan Pepper-Bates and my senior research with Dr. Nylen and Dr. Hill. Also, I am glad that I went beyond a Political Science major and went for international studies because I was able to concentrate on Haiti, my heritage. Hopefully, one day I can apply all the skills that I have learned here towards helping Haiti reach stability and peace.  

Any hardships you had to overcome during childhood and/or since you’ve been at Stetson?  I have had many hardships growing up in a single-parent home, but thankfully I was surrounded by the love and support of my family, who raised me to reach my potential. Because of them, I am here today. One of the greatest hardships that I am facing right now is trying to graduate this year while my mother is suffering from terminal gastric cancer. It has been really hard to work under the pain of knowing that my mother may not be able to make it to my graduation. But in remembering all of the sacrifice and love for me that she gave, I have found the strength to carry on. Not just for myself, but for her as well.  

What do you plan to do after graduation and in life?  My plans are to go into the Peace Corps in the near future. There has not been a confirmation of my invitation, but I have been nominated and currently undergoing the medical clearing. With my mother’s illness, it’s postponed my departure, but I still plan to go and take advantage of this wonderful rare opportunity to serve! 

Can you describe how you feel about your Stetson experience?  Well to be honest, this semester has been the hardest for me. It has not been as bright and smooth as most people have told me it would be. However, I am glad to have had this learning privilege that many of my family members have never had the opportunity to experience. While I would have liked to have excelled better in my academics, I can say with full confidence that every experience that I have gained here has made me into the person that I am proud to be. 


Alex W. Sanchez, 21, Deltona, Fla.

Major: Elementary Education; Minor: Psychology, College of Arts & Sciences

What are some highlights of your academic experience at Stetson? Since making the decision to be an educator I have seen myself develop, and my values and faith strengthen. Last semester, I completed my teaching internship in a second grade single-gender (all-boys) classroom. Needless to say that was a unique experience; the perfect way to culminate my journey through the teacher education program. Soon thereafter, I was offered a Letter of Intent, which is a contract with Volusia County Schools.

Any hardships you had to overcome during childhood and/or since you’ve been at Stetson?  I am originally from Bayamon, Puerto Rico. Ten years ago, my family and I decided to move to Florida in search of new opportunities. I was 12 years old when we moved, and I could barely speak English, which was a challenge in school. Thanks to God, good teachers, very supportive parents and sister, and my desire to make my family proud, I overcame challenges and acclimated to the new culture and language. After a year in school, I took the ESOL exit exam and passed. Consequently, I transitioned to regular classrooms. Soon thereafter, I found myself in honors and advanced placement classrooms in high school. Needless to say, it was not easy. There were many challenges within those transitions, because for the countless supportive role models in my life, there have always been a few individuals who tend to discourage. There have definitely been times when I have doubted my ability to make it, but my faith has always kept me going. One thing is for certain, my family has always been there, and for that I am eternally thankful.

What do you plan to do after graduation and in life?  My immediate plan after graduation is to begin working in the fall as a full-time teacher for Volusia County Schools. I am ecstatic to have my own classroom and to have the opportunity to effect change in the lives of my students. In a few years, I hope to continue my studies in theology and, perhaps, law. I am confident that the opportunities will be endless! My dream is to take my career as an educator beyond the classroom and become an advocate for education issues both here and abroad.

Can you describe how you feel about your Stetson experience?  As a first generation college student, I am grateful to obtain a college degree from an excellent university. In addition to a degree, I know I am taking with me an invaluable college experience that has developed me as individual who values service, learning and diversity. There is a special place in my mind and heart for the many friendships that I have built in my university. I am humbled as I prepare to stand on that stage and speak to my class – to say thanks and to hopefully inspire us all to continue what we have started and to allow our lives to speak to us and to others.


Shane Christopher Thomas Jr., 22, DeLand, Fla.

Major: Music Education, Vocal, School of Music

What are some highlights of your academic experience at Stetson?  Three faculty members in particular, Dr. Ann Small, Dr. Andrew Larson, and Dr. Craig Maddox, have had the biggest influence on my career choice and my musical growth. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed growing with my entire class as a family, building a support system that will never die, and learning everything in every one of my classes. The capstone of my educational experience at Stetson has to be when I conducted the Concert Choir at our 2010 State ACDA Convention performance.

What activities outside of the classroom were most important to you?  I was always involved in the organizations on campus. The most important activity outside of classes was joining the Xi Nu chapter of Phi Mu Alpha. This obligation I took has changed my life and the way I view my music and myself. Without my brothers, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Any awards you’ve received during college?  One of the best awards I received here was being able to conduct the choral ensembles at Stetson. I’ve also won the highest amount of scholarship from Phi Mu Alpha’s Sinfonia Educational Foundation. In addition, I was initiated into Omicron Delta Kappa, Pi Kappa Lambda, Kappa Delta Pi and Phi Eta Sigma. I was the two-year president of the Xi Nu chapter of Phi Mu Alpha, the 2011-2012 president of the Student Advisory Council of the Schoolof Musicand served other officer positions in CNAfME and ACDA.

Any hardships you had to overcome during childhood and/or since you’ve been at Stetson?  The most difficult thing I faced in college was losing my grandfather in spring 2011. He was truly my father-figure and provider in life; he emphasized to me the importance of succeeding, he taught me the fundamentals of life and how to grow as a human being, and he always stood by my side no matter what was going on.

What do you plan to do after graduation and in life?  After Stetson, I will be attending the Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey to pursue double Masters in Music degrees in choral conducting and music education. My ultimate life goal is to become a director of choral activities at a university and share with all of my students the passion and life-force of choral music.

Can you describe how you feel about your Stetson experience?  My Stetson experience has certainly been one-of-a-kind. If I didn’t go to Stetson, I wouldn’t have grown into the adult I am now. Stetson has provided intellectual, motivational and practical experience that I will carry for the rest of my life. The classes I took challenged my way of thinking and forced me to go outside my comfort zone. The musical experiences I had were insurmountable to anything I’ve ever heard, performed or created.


Linh Tran, 21, Port Charlotte, Fla.

Major: Psychology; Minor: Education, College of Arts & Sciences

Certificate of Community Engagement 

What are some highlights of your academic experience at Stetson? Being a part of the Bonner Program, becoming the first student ever to earn the Certificate of Community Engagement and being selected to present my senior research at the SEPA Conference in New Orleans are among the highlights of my time at Stetson. My favorite classes were Self and World taught by Dr. Greg Sapp, the Hal S. Marchman Chair of Civic and Social Responsibility and associate professor of Religious Studies; and Poverty and Microcredit, taught by Dr. Ranjini Thaver, associate professor and chair of Economics.

What activities outside of the classroom were most important to you?  Volunteering, especially at Woodward Elementary, and my involvement with Bonner were most meaningful to me.

What awards have you received at Stetson?  I logged the most hours in Bonner my sophomore year.

What do you plan to do after graduation and in life?  I’ve accepted an AmeriCorps VISTA position working with United Way in Winston-Salem, N.C. for a year. Afterward, my plan is to go to law school for child advocacy.

Can you describe how you feel about your Stetson experience?  My experiences at Stetson have been invaluable. The courses I took were the foundation. The opportunities I had outside of the class, however, were supplementary to my overall successful experience. I cannot even describe in words how important the Bonner Program is to me. Without the support I have received from everyone involved in the program, I would not be where I am today.


Maria Wrabel, 21, Monroe, Conn.

Major: Global Development Studies; Minor: English, College of Arts & Sciences

What activities outside of the classroom were most important to you?  My participation in the Bonner Scholars Program. I was able to get involved in the community since my first day at Stetson in a variety of ways, from tutoring students at Woodward Elementary School to volunteering at a local homeless shelter to most recently interning with Feeding Children Everywhere. Being the President of the Oxfam Club has also been a highlight, as it gave me the chance to spread my passion for global issues to other members of the Stetson community.

Any awards you’ve received during college?  Outstanding Freshman in the Bonner Scholars Program, Outstanding Senior in the Bonner Scholars Program, Outstanding Senior in the Honors Program; Honor societies (not sure if that counts:) Phi Beta Kappa, Omicron Delta Epsilon, Alpha Kappa Delta, Sigma Tau Delta; Truman Scholar Finalist.

What do you plan to do after graduation and in life?  I leave for a year in Vietnam in early August. I received a Rotary Cultural Scholarship to teach English at Can Tho University through Volunteers in Asia and volunteer at a rural and agricultural development and research center through Peacework. I plan to attend graduate school and pursue a career in international human rights, aid, and development work, focusing on promoting food security.

Can you describe how you feel about your Stetson experience?  I can’t believe how quickly the time has flown! I feel as though I took advantage of the opportunities I had, and for that I am grateful. I have met so many different kinds of people and had countless formative and life-changing experiences. There are so many more aspects of Stetson that I wish I had gotten the chance to experience, and I’m sad to leave the friends, colleagues, and professors who have become like family. However, I feel as though Stetson has prepared me for the days ahead, and I am excited to see what they will hold!