Congratulations, Racers. As soon-to-be graduates of the Murray State University Class of 2017, you'll be joining 70,000 active Murray State University alumni throughout the world. You've put in the hard work and now it's time to shine.
#RacerGraduation is a journey and deserves to be recognized. As we look towards May commencement, we're proud to share your stories.Click the headline for more information
Gregory Smith pursued passion for social work at Murray State's Hopkinsville campus
Spring 2017 graduate, Dean Charles Anthony II, credits Murray State for receiving endless opportunities and being pushed out of comfort zone
Within a student’s undergraduate career, he or she has a finite amount of time to discover one’s passion. For senior Murray State University student, Dean Charles Anthony II, the blue and gold offered endless opportunities and helped the out-of-state student feel at home.
Originally from Lithonia, Georgia, Anthony has a major in political science and a minor in theatre. When searching for the right university during his senior year of high school, he wanted to expand his horizons and explore opportunities outside of his familiar Georgia landscape.
“I knew I wanted to go somewhere unique and out of my comfort zone. So while looking for schools, my little sister was actually the one who found Murray State,” said Anthony. “After checking out the website, I decided to take a rainy day tour on campus and immediately loved it.”
After leaving Georgia and becoming a full-time student at Murray State, it didn’t take very long for Anthony to get involved on campus and actively pursue his passions. While Anthony was learning about political science inside of the classroom, he was experiencing it outside of the classroom by being a member of the residential college council system, the Student Government Association and College Democrats. Later on in his undergraduate journey, Anthony served as president for the Franklin Residential College Council and as president for the Murray State College Democrats.
Beyond Murray State’s campus, Anthony took his political science knowledge to secure high-profile positions throughout his undergraduate career. In 2016, he served as the regional organizing director for the Hillary Clinton campaign, leading his team members in making 25,000 weekly volunteer recruitment calls, registering 2,837 voters and knocking on an average of 9,000 doors weekly. His other experiences include serving as a field director for the Kentucky 8th House District special election in early 2016, a field organizer for the Virginia Democratic Party 93rd House Delegate in 2015 and a field organizer for the Kentucky Democratic Senate race in 2014.
Although Anthony was heavily involved as a political science student, he found that the skills taught in the theatre department would give him the opportunity to grow in leadership, group management and effective public speaking. He was involved with Sock and Buskin, All Campus Sing and Realities on Campus. He describes being cast in the University’s production of the "Frog Prince" as one of his greatest accomplishments while at Murray State.
After graduation in May, Anthony will move to Virginia, where he has recently accepted a field director position on a state delegate race. Reflecting on his memories of Murray State, Anthony attributes much of his success to his alma mater.
“My time at Murray State has been a true blessing,” said Anthony. “I have to thank the political science department, the theatre department, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Residential College Council system and everyone who has helped me grow during my four years here. Go Racers!”
Soon-to-be graduate Jalpaben Patel finds a family in the School of Nursing and Health Professions
Currently from Paducah, Kentucky, Patel will graduate magna cum laude with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Throughout her undergraduate career, she has achieved many accomplishments, including being inducted into the nursing honor society, Sigma Theta Tau International, and presenting her research with a classmate at Posters-at-the-Capitol.
“When I graduate from Murray State, I will miss Mason Hall. It’s like a home to me. My classmates and the nursing faculty have always treated each other like a family,” said Patel.
Throughout her undergraduate journey, Patel took a few detours before finding her home within the School of Nursing and Health Professions. Born in India, Patel and her family moved to the United States in 1998 and have since lived in Kentucky. She graduated high school in 2007 and began taking classes at Murray State as a pre-pharmacy and chemistry major. When she married her husband in 2009 and had her first child, Patel left Murray State to live in New Jersey with her new family for a few years. In 2012, the Patel family returned to Kentucky to begin a small business.
“After we moved back to Kentucky, it didn’t take very long for my husband to encourage me to return to college and find a degree that interested me. So, in the fall of 2013, I started researching my options to restart my educational endeavors,” said Patel. “I began taking classes in the spring of 2014. It was a bit of a tough transition at first, since my classmates were four to five years younger than me. But shortly, I adjusted and made so many friends that have helped me to achieve my goals.”
Patel considers graduating from Murray State with a degree in nursing as one of her greatest accomplishments. Commencement will be a very special day for Patel and her family, as both Patel and her little brother, Vishal, will be graduating together this May. After graduation, Patel will continue her educational pursuits at Murray State, as she was recently accepted into the Doctorate of Nursing Practice for fall 2017.
Barbra Watson left a job she loved to earn her degree at Murray State University’s Henderson campus
Barbra Watson was working a job she truly enjoyed, teaching at a church pre-school in Henderson. She started off as an assistant teacher and, when the lead teacher took another job, received the opportunity to move up into that position. In that role, she enjoyed planning lessons and activities for her class while getting to know the children and their families. She liked it so much, in fact, that the position solidified her decision to go back to college to earn her bachelor’s degree in education.
Watson made the difficult decision to leave her job and pursue a degree in learning and behavior disorders with an emphasis on elementary education at Murray State University’s Henderson campus.
“It had always been a dream of mine to go to college and obtain a teaching degree after all my children were old enough to go to school,” said Watson. “When my daughter began Kindergarten, I resigned my position. Although it was difficult for me to leave, I knew that it was time to begin my journey toward a career in education.”
Watson proceeded to balance her time between school, a husband and three children, and she said she had to be creative in terms of juggling all of her responsibilities. Thankfully, her husband and children have provided her with support, and her youngest child has enjoyed giving input on lesson plans.
Watson came to Murray State with an associate degree from Henderson Community College (HCC). When thinking about pursuing her dream and obtaining a bachelor’s degree, she looked at various colleges nearby, but Murray State was an easy choice for several reasons.
“Murray State University is a great school with a reputation for excellence, and I knew that I would get a high-quality education. I also wanted to complete my practicum hours and student teaching here in our local school district,” said Watson.
Taking classes at the Henderson campus proved to be convenient for Watson. Not only was she able to complete almost all of her classes in Henderson, she was also familiar with the campus since it shares a location with HCC. In fact, the two schools have a partnership that makes it easy to transfer from HCC to Murray State in Henderson.
During her time at Murray State’s Henderson campus, she was fortunate to have learned from “phenomenal educators” while making connections within the local school district, where she eventually hopes to work. She credits many faculty and staff members for helping her throughout her experience, especially when her mother passed away during her junior year.
“All of my instructors were very understanding and supportive during this difficult time,” she said. “Throughout the program as a whole, both Shirley Wathen and Donna Hendricks were wonderful sources of encouragement. Former Director Mike Freels and current Director Heather Roy were also amazingly helpful.”
On May 12, the College of Education and Human Services will award Watson with the Outstanding Scholarship in Learning Behavior Disorders for the highest GPA.
After Watson receives her bachelor’s on May 13 and finishes the Kentucky Teacher Internship Program, she plans to work toward a master’s degree in special education or literacy as well as national board certification.
“As I begin teaching, my desire is to find and implement strategies that will help maximize the learning outcomes for each of my students, and to help them develop the social and functional skills they need to be successful,” said Watson.
Soon-to-be graduate Millicent Green found her home at Murray State University with the Racer family
When asked, third-year senior from Paducah, Millicent Green, gave credit to multiple components that contributed to molding her into the industrious student she has become throughout her college career.
Green graduated from Ballard Memorial High School in 2014 as salutatorian with 37 college credit hours.
The soon-to-be magna cum laude graduate will walk across the stage May 13 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism and a minor in graphic communications technology, but like every good story, the accomplishment didn’t come without a few hurdles.
After her love for soccer took her out of the country to places such as England and Scotland, it eventually landed her six hours from home at Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago where she was in the Scholars Program and played as the soccer team’s center midfielder for two years.
But when her mother’s health became a luxury and the importance of soccer was overshadowed, Green moved home to be with family and came to Murray State as a transfer student.
“When my mom was supposed to have two major surgeries, I decided to move home. I knew she would need help,” said Green. “I also missed my family and the slower pace that I was used to.”
Green described her experience at Murray State as one she couldn’t have lived without. With an interest in creativity and design, she wasn’t sure of a path that would effectively reflect that, but the graphic communications media department proved to be a perfect complement to her journalism major.
“I am so happy that I ended up at Murray State for that reason. It has been a stress reliever, and I've been able to pursue something that I wouldn't have otherwise,” said Green. “I think everyone needs to study something that feels more like an outlet to them than a job.”
The University is home to more than 10,000 students, but Green said Murray State was her home because the journalism department was the heart of her experience.
“Even though Murray is a big public University, I feel like Wilson Hall is its own world,” said Green. “I have loved every teacher in the department, enjoyed my classes and made great friends.”
During college and throughout her lifetime, Green has attained many titles: student, athlete, salutatorian, scholar, intern, friend and daughter. What’s next on her list? Lawyer.
Following in her parents’ footsteps, Green plans to attend law school next fall. She has not yet determined where, but she said she hopes to attend the University of Louisville or the University of Kentucky.
“I want to be a social security disability attorney like my parents,” said Green. “I have seen firsthand the impact that this profession has on the lives of people in my community, and I feel like I have the compassion and the determination to be a great attorney.”
When reflecting on her time at Murray State, Green said it is the people she has met and the professors she will miss the most.
Complete information on the May 2017 Commencement ceremony, as well as #RacerGraduation stories, can be found at Murraystate.edu/commencement.
Inspired by her parents, spring 2017 graduate Zuleyka Valdes hopes to make a difference through teaching
Two years ago, Zuleyka Valdes’ father passed away during her sophomore year at Murray State University. It was an incredibly hard experience to endure, but her father’s motivation for her to do well in school convinced Valdes to work toward a double degree. She kept going strong because of him.
“I live every moment of my days to make him proud and to do the best things I can in life. He was the kind of person that always helped and encouraged me. He made me into the woman I am today,” said Valdes.
Now, she is prepared to graduate from Murray State in spring 2017 with a double major in middle school education and Spanish. She attributes her drive to reach this point in life to her father as well as her mother.
“My parents are my motivation and strength to be the best I can be and achieve my goals and dreams,” said Valdes, adding that her mother, who is now her only relative in the U.S., continues to serve as a beacon of positivity and strength.
Born in Puerto Rico, Valdes said her family moved to Bronx, N.Y. when she was four. After living two years there and experiencing 9/11, they moved to various places throughout Kentucky, including Danville and Liberty, before settling in Campbellsville. Switching schools so many times helped shape her into the person she is today.
“The experience of moving around a lot of times to different types of cities allowed me to become a very open-minded individual. It opened doors for me to meet new people, experience new places, and helped me grow into an adaptable and accepting person,” explained Valdes.
Fluent in English and Spanish, Valdes was taught both languages growing up. Her parents spoke to her only in Spanish at home, while she learned English in school and through her love of reading. Both of her parents were Spanish teachers, which inspired her to follow in their footsteps.
After earning a 4.2 GPA in high school, she was awarded a full-ride scholarship — the Marvin D. Mills scholarship — as well as the Minority Educator Recruitment and Retention Scholarship. Attending Murray State, she said, has opened a lot of doors for her. Professors and mentors have helped her get involved in a long list of clubs and organizations: the Emerging Scholars Institute, Sueño Latino Club, The Muses a cappella group, the Murray State Middle Level Association, the International Conversation Partner Program and the National Society of Collegiate Members. She has also received multiple job opportunities, including teaching a Spanish club, tutoring students in Spanish and serving as an orientation leader for International Student Services on campus.
Dr. Tanya Romero-González, assistant professor of Spanish, has served as Valdes’ advisor in the department of modern languages and helped Valdes successfully navigate two majors.
“During this time, I have supported her by forging relationships with colleagues in the administration and other departments and colleges in order to ensure that Zuleyka was on track. This has helped me view my role as an advisor as a collaborator and advocate for my students. A lot of people are really involved in this process — it does take a Murray State village to have successful graduates!”
Taking on two majors wasn’t easy, but she said Valdes “took on this challenge with energy and motivation” that continually impressed her.
“We often joked that, after this, she would be more than ready to deal with any future challenges, including graduate school or joining the workforce,” said Romero-González.
Looking ahead to the commencement ceremony, Valdes is excited to walk across the stage and receive the double degree she has worked tirelessly to earn. Some of her family members from Puerto Rico will be there to witness the accomplishment.
Once she graduates, she hopes to start making an impact in students’ lives through a teaching position in an urban school, and she also plans to work toward a master’s degree. Of course, she’ll continue striving to make her parents proud.
“I am living my dreams and working hard through everything I set my mind to do,” said Valdes.
Complete information on the May 2017 Commencement ceremony, as well as #RacerGraduation stories, can be found at Murraystate.edu/commencement.
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