NIU President Doug Baker told the audience at the May 13 undergraduate ceremony about Tyler Hayes, who earned a bachelor’s in Kinesiology.
During the May 12 Graduate School ceremony, Baker spoke about Kai Rush, who earned a doctorate in Instructional Technology, and Natalie Tarter, who earned a master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.
Here are President Baker’s comments.
Every graduate is filled with a well-earned sense of accomplishment. That is particularly true for Tyler Hayes because of what it took to get here.
She arrived at NIU from Peoria filled with a desire to improve her life, but without a lot of money in the bank.
Every semester, she says, was a “guessing game” of whether or not she would be able to keep chasing her degree. She is grateful to those in the financial aid department who repeatedly helped her find financial assistance.
She can also thank her powerful work ethic. While at NIU, Tyler worked as a community advisor to cover room and board costs, spent time as a student orientation leader and earned money working in the sports information department.
It wasn’t always easy, but somewhere in her journey she recognized the power of her own positivity as a stabilizing force. She became a go-getter unwilling to wait around for things to happen.
That’s not to say she did it alone. She praises the “great motivators” she found among her classmates, for keeping up her spirits. She credits professors for their accommodating support. And she gives props to her teammates on the women’s rugby team for keeping her grades on track with study table sessions.
Tyler graduates today with a degree in Kinesiology. After a final summer working on campus, she will head off to Georgetown University this fall to pursue a master’s in Sports Industry Management.
Tyler says she will miss the caring, amazing people she met during a great NIU experience. Given her spirit, I have no doubt she has many memorable moments to look forward to in her future.
Based on his SAT scores, Kai Rush had a 10 percent chance of earning a bachelor’s degree.
Today he graduates with his Ph.D. in Instructional Technology.
This is his second NIU degree. His master’s in Instructional Technology allowed him to climb the ladder from teacher to instructional coach to director of technology for West Chicago schools. Then he realized he was born to be a teacher not an administrator.
As Kai wrestled with that dilemma, Dr. Wei Chen Hung suggested he consider teaching classes here at NIU. He embraced the challenge and discovered that, after 15 years as an award-winning teacher at the K-12 level, he also loved teaching college students. Much to his surprise, he also discovered a passion for research.
Dr. Hung’s intervention, he says, was just one of many examples of how NIU faculty helped him find his current path.
Dr. Rebecca Hunt devoted hours last summer lending advice on his dissertation; Dr. Pi-Sui Hsu challenged him to explain his research in greater detail; Dr. Thomas Smith turned his dislike into enjoyment for math and statistics; and Dr. Nick Omale taught him how to plan and deliver a university-level lesson.
Thanks to the nurturing and cajoling of those professors, and to the help of many others here at NIU, the high-schooler who wasn’t supposed to go to college is now an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater. There he helps prepare others for careers as teachers and does research on using technology to motivate minority and English language learners.
In a note he sent to me this spring, Kai said of his journey, “Test scores mean nothing if you have great teachers, professors and staff to support, assist and motivate students! That is NIU!”
It is my sincere hope that all of you in this room had an experience here at NIU to rival his.
Natalie Tarter’s star rose as a track athlete at Batavia High School.
- A state champion in the 300-meter hurdles;
- Illinois record-holder in the 100-meter hurdles;
- Twice the state runner-up in the 100-meter hurdles.
She went off to a Big 10 university on a full ride – and with legitimate Olympic hopes.
Then came the injuries – and three hip surgeries.
No longer able to compete at that high level, Natalie felt lost and lonely. It was a challenging period in her life, one that changed her outlook on sports.
Natalie fashioned quite a comeback, however.
She transferred to NIU, focused on academics and walked on the track team, finding success in a new event, the heptathlon.
After completing her bachelor’s degree in general studies, she stayed here. Today Natalie earns her master’s in clinical mental health counseling, with a graduate certificate in sports and exercise psychology.
The last two years, she worked with – and learned from – our Office of Student Academic Success, where Natalie provided academic coaching and leadership training to our students.
But sports remains a central theme in her work.
Natalie once presented a professional development session for her officemates, setting up hurdles outside their building and teaching them jumping techniques. When co-workers expressed embarrassment and doubt in their abilities, Natalie likened it to the frustration and uncertainty that students can feel as they navigate college.
It’s a lesson they won’t forget.
While interning at a private practice, Natalie created counseling groups for athletes at West Aurora High School and facilitated high school workshops on mental health and sports.
Athletes are often neglected in the mental health realm, Natalie says, and she wants to change that.
Additionally, the depth of her experiences has included working with young people who are non-verbal and autistic, as well as young women who have attempted to take their own lives.
It’s not surprising that Natalie has been asked to join the private counseling practice where she interned, and she has plans to continue her important work there with athletes and others.
We think Natalie Tarter never really needed an oval track to shine.
Please enjoy these photographs from the May 12 and 13 ceremonies.