Women who overcame obstacles inspire class of 2010

By: ISU Communications and Marketing Staff, ISU Communications and Marketing Staff
May 8, 2010

Two women who surpassed the expectations of those who knew them in their youth encouraged Indiana State University graduates Saturday to focus on their dreams.

The ISU class of 2010, with nearly 1,500 graduates, listened to 1977 ISU alumna Connia Nelson and student speaker Shanel Poole as they delivered their words of thanks for a school that helped shape their lives.

Both women discussed the obstacles they overcame in their childhood to pursue their college education.

Nelson and her twin sister grew up in Lawrenceburg with their single mother. Nelson was a first generation college student raised to believe "all things are possible," she said.

"I can't think of a single teacher from elementary school through college who would have expected me to be your commencement speaker," she said. "And they certainly would not have predicted that I would be a key senior leader actually in the top 1 percent of a major corporation like Verizon."

After Nelson left ISU she earned a Master of Arts degree in organizational management from Dallas Baptist University before rising to the position of senior vice president for human resources with Verizon Telecom.

In that position, she's responsible for developing and implementing human resources policies to help 124,000 Verizon employees meet the demands of the broadband and entertainment marketplace.

Throughout her career with communications companies, Nelson said she's learned to operate with integrity, deliver more than she promises, strive to improve circumstances and be authentic and passionate about her work.

"Have a good attitude," she said. "No one wants to work with a grump. And never give up. Refuse to lose and believe that the win is just around the corner."

Nelson said she often mentors young people and reminds them that everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time.

"But it's how you walk in them that makes a difference," she said. "So find your swagger, have a little rhythm in your step, always walk gracefully and never step on someone else to get ahead."

She encouraged the graduates to build their own personal networks and surround themselves with people smarter than they are.

"When you build your team, staff to your weaknesses," she said. "So if you're not good with data and spreadsheets, find somebody who is."

Nelson, whose speech followed Poole's in the order of ceremonies, also said she was inspired by Poole's story and commended her for her determination.

Poole said ISU helped her transition from a high school dropout who ran from police to an Indianapolis government intern in the mayor's and prosecutor's offices.

ISU "saved me from a life of destruction," she said. "I wasn't certain where to go in August of 2005, but the direction I chose was ISU and it was the best thing that had ever happened to me."

At ISU, she successfully overcame her troubled childhood, she said.

Her education opened doors for her to travel to Mexico for learning opportunities through the ISU Study Abroad program. She became a Sycamore Ambassador - representing the students of ISU, and she established a non-profit organization to help other girls who find themselves in situations like those she faced.

"My involvement in eight campus organizations and programs for scholars, as well as my career experiences, proves just how much ISU has done for me," she said. "I love life, and I thank you for providing me with many opportunities."

ISU President Dan Bradley encouraged students to strive for knowledge even after graduation.

"I challenge you to continue learning throughout your lifetime," he said. "This world is evolving rapidly and one must be willing to adapt to these changes to continue to succeed."

Commencement photo gallery: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Events/2010-Spring-Commencement/12132100_QBJrY#862746363_uJTtB

Media contact and writer: Rachel Wedding McClelland, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or rachel.mcclelland@indstate.edu.