December 16, 2013
Joe Weiss worked two 24-hour shifts per week as an emergency medical technician and taught EMT classes at a community college while pursuing a bachelor's degree in nursing at Indiana State University. The 36-year-old commuted from Bloomington to attend classes full time while also raising a teenage son.
On Saturday, Weiss completed his degree and delivered the commencement address to fellow winter graduates telling them to temper the idealism they feel with a healthy dose of reality.
At age 9, Weiss and his seven brothers and sisters were living in a southern Indiana barn when they were made wards of the state and sent to the Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's Home.
"I could have been the poster child for American poverty," he said.
At the children's home, Weiss met the woman he now calls mom, Andrea Helm.
"She helped me realize that no matter how untraditional our backgrounds we all have amazing potential," he said. "As for my seven siblings, most of whom are here today, you are my inspiration. As productive members of their communities I celebrate their successes, just as we celebrate all students who are graduating this afternoon."
Weiss said graduates should be proud of the 1.2 million hours of community service Indiana State students performed last year and the university's top national ranking for community service, but said their commitment to helping others should just be beginning.
"What has started here has the capacity to truly change our world," he said.
Indiana State gave Weiss, who is originally from Paoli, the opportunity to be active in its Student Nurses Association and Advocates for Equality and be involved with the Charter School of the Dunes in Gary and Mirallac Center after School Program for disenfranchised youth in Chicago. He also spent eight days in a remote village in Guatemala in an effort to study social, economic and healthcare issues of a developing country.
He plans to work as an intensive care unit for five years and then return to graduate school to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist.
"I strive to treat everyone I encounter as if they are the most important person in the world, right there in that moment," he said. "I encourage you to do the same. Make it your daily goal to be the reason one stranger smiles."
Among the many lessons he has learned at Indiana State is that we often take our healthcare for granted," Weiss said. "While helping to deliver a baby boy in an unsterile environment (in Guatemala) with real life geckos on the walls, two things occurred to me: one never make the mistake of telling a delivering mother to lay still, breathe slowly and push when she's had no anesthesia, and two, always be open to the truly universal experiences in life."
At Indiana State, he said, "we've been guided to learn a life lesson that in helping others we help ourselves to become more than mere members of a community. We become meaningful contributors to it, as well. It's now up to us to embrace those lessons and make community service a part of who we are for the rest of our lives."
Alumni speaker Keith Ogorek, a 1982 graduate who is vice president of marketing for Author Solutions, offered graduates a framework for building relationships and time management.
"Having the right relationships and spending your years wisely are two key threads you can use to weave together a successful life no matter what degree you have earned," he said.
Ogorek urged graduates to seek relationships from their peers as well as those who are older and wiser and those coming behind whom they can invest in and be the person who is "older and wiser" for them.
He gave the example of Moses, who was raised as a foster child, was exiled from his own people "and then given the seemingly unachievable task of leading the largest migration of people in the history of the world,"
In the midst of his journeys, Moses had a peer to walk alongside him in his brother Aaron as well as a relationship with an older man, Jethro, who would show up at critical points to help him work through times of challenge and confusion and a relationship with a younger man named Joshua to whom he passed the baton of leadership.
"I found the Aarons of my life during my time here at Indiana State," Ogorek said. "I made friends during my first year at Rhodes Hall ... and these men have walked with me during the ups and downs of life since that time. So you never know, it's possible the Aarons in your life may be sitting right next to you."
While Moses told of life lasting "threescore years and ten" or "fourscore years," Puritan scholars such as Cotton Mather took those words literally and said those years are not all the same, suggesting we really have four different seasons in life, Ogorek said.
Indiana State graduates just completed their preparation years and are entering the production years, he said. As they begin their careers and start their families, he urged graduates to also run for office and join a board. In the third 20-year season, the provision years, Puritans called on people to make provisions for their later years so they would not be a burden to culture.
But the most interesting period, Ogorek said, is the final 20 years, the protection years, during which people should speak to the generations coming behind them to protect them from making the same mistakes that can create havoc in lives, families and communities.
"I believe thinking about your life in terms of these seasons can be very helpful because it gives clear purpose to every point in your journey and also serves as an important reminder that no matter what season you are in, you should not just be living for yourself, but instead always be in relationships where you can contribute to the well-being of others," he said. "Some of you may think talking about seasons of life to people in their early 20s is a bit pre-mature, but what you may not fully appreciate yet is time will pass more quickly than you can ever imagine ... Take time to make your life as good as it can be."
More than 750 graduates completed requirements for bachelor's, master's, educational specialist and doctoral degrees this summer and fall and were eligible to participate in Indiana State's 2013 winter commencement. Slightly more than half of that number came out on a snowy day to participate in the ceremonies at Hulman Center.
Melanie Trammell of Greensburg received the Hines Medal, which goes to students with the highest cumulative grade point average during the pursuit of a bachelor's degree, while Jacqueline Dan of Mishawaka received the President's Medal for Leadership, Scholarship and Service. The university recognized Michael Simmons, a 1964 graduate and a long time benefactor, with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Events/Commencement/Winter-Commencement-2013/i-sLMx9kV/0/L/December%2014%2C%202013%20winter%20commencement7811-L.jpg - Bachelor's degree nursing graduate Joseph Weiss delivered the student address during Indiana State University's winter commencement Dec. 14, 2013
Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Events/Commencement/Winter-Commencement-2013/i-bqMsVD5/0/L/December%2014%2C%202013%20winter%20commencement7899-L.jpg - Keith Ogorek, a 1982 Indiana State University graduate who is vice president of marketing for Author Solutions, served as alumni speaker for the university's winter commencement Dec. 14, 2013.
Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Events/Commencement/Winter-Commencement-2013/i-MQg2c5M/0/L/December%2014%2C%202013%20winter%20commencement5177-L.jpg - Three Indiana State University graduates make their way to Hulman Center Dec. 14, 2013 for winter commencement.
Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Nursing graduate Joe Weiss, who spent part of his childhood living in a barn with seven brothers and sisters, delivered an inspiring commencement address while publishing executive Keith Ogorek had some tips for the new alumni.