Southern Utah University’s Class of 2013 boasts 1,756 students, each with a unique story of their journey from freshman registration to this year’s graduation. Sometimes in the face of great adversity and against all odds, and other times on a seeming path of destiny to culminate years of standout performance, our graduates now leave SUU with formative experiences and stories to tell that have, collectively, shaped our Thunderbird community.
The following are just a few examples of 2013 grads who have left their mark, persisting through to graduation and inspiring others along the way.
One of just 28 undergraduates to leave SUU with a perfect 4.0 GPA, Choryn S. Glad was selected as the Class of 2013 valedictorian thanks to an impressive list of academic engagement that stretched far beyond campus. With a double major in biology and chemistry, Glad completed several research internships in forensics and morphometrics, with eventual goals to study forensics in graduate school.
According to one of her chemistry professors, MacKay Steffensen, Glad is the only student to have ever earned a perfect score on one of Steffensen’s exams. She has truly excelled within two of the most challenging undergraduate courses of study, and her perfect performance in the classroom and the lab may have been enough to qualify Glad as the best of this year’s very best students. But her efforts do not end there.
Said Steffensen, “Choryn has much more than a perfect academic record. She is so curious about her surroundings and that is what drives her to learn—she isn’t content until she understands why. She has an insatiable desire to learn that is incontrovertible.”
Steffensen said Glad’s inquisitive nature encouraged her fellow students to ask more questions and participate more as well. In efforts to help her peers, Glad has also volunteered as a math tutor while on campus, has worked as a chemistry grader, and is a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success.
And though she stands out as the most successful academic on campus this year, Glad will share the spotlight on graduation day with Blake Clark, selected among a competitive pool of applicants to represent the Class of 2013 as this year’s student speaker in the University Commencement Ceremony on Friday, May 3.
A T-Bird at heart long before he officially joined campus as an undergrad, Clark grew up playing on the University’s baseball field, making campus his backyard playground. From his first day officially on campus, he then did everything he could to get involved, from serving on the Latter-day Saints Student Association to teaching English to local elementary ESL students in his spare time.
Of Clark, Deb Hill, dean of the College of Education and Human Development, said, “Blake is the type of student who wants the fishing rod, not the fish.”
This is evident in Clark’s forthcoming Commencement speech, in which he will speak of both hardship and the resolve to overcome it that he credits largely to the footing he has received at SUU.
Clark said he has always loved SUU and has always wanted to speak at graduation.
This comes as little surprise to Hill, who said, “Blake has a compassionate nature that drives him to help those around him.” Dean Hill said Clark has already made the campus community a better place, and she looks forward to hearing from him in Commencement.
From here, Clark will begin preparations for his new job this fall as a fourth grade teacher at Enoch’s Three Peaks Elementary—one of several schools who competed for the standout graduate over the past months.
Much further away from home on his college adventure—7,821 miles, to be exact—Kodai Kusano came to SUU in 2009 from Tokyo, Japan, knowing very little English and even less about the community he would join. Yet he came undaunted, making a home and a family from the new people and places that now surround him in America’s southwest. What’s more, he has excelled far beyond even his own imaginings.
Drawing upon knowledge of the Japanese and U.S. cultures, Kusano, a double psychology and physical education major, completed comparative research on the psychology of teachers and the educational habits between his home and college nations while studying at SUU. His research has since been published, and the 2013 grad will present his findings at the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology in June. And he has done all this while also training and competing as a Thunderbird athlete within the University's Track and Field program—a time-consuming and grueling endeavor all on its own.
According to Michiko Kobayashi, assistant professor of education who worked with Kusano on his research, this is no small feat.
“Even for a native English speaker, publishing and presenting research is very difficult; doing it in a language that is not your native tongue is even harder. Kodai has an enthusiasm to excel and he never let the language barrier be a stumbling block toward his degree.”
Inspired by cultural differences, Kusano will begin work toward a master’s degree this September at San Francisco State University, studying social psychology.
Much closer to home, raised just north of Cedar City, in Parowan, Jordan Williams may seem like a very typical Thunderbird, but her story is, perhaps, the most inspirational of all among the Class of 2013.
Rather than learning a new language, Williams had to relearn a skill she’d honed since she was a small child to succeed at SUU. She had to learn to read. Again.
After finishing finals on the first year of her nursing pre-requisites, Williams was put into a medically induced coma to treat scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that had plagued her for the past six years. But when she woke up 11 days later, she had the lost the ability to read.
“I was frustrated when I first learned that I couldn’t read. I was supposed to be starting my sophomore year of college and I couldn’t read a sentence that I could as a preschooler,” said Williams. “But graduating from college has always been my dream, and I decided that I was going to learn how to read again no matter what.”
With the help of former schoolteachers from Parowan, Williams slowly recovered the lost skill—starting back again at a first-grade reading level until she was back up to speed and ready to return to SUU.
Inspired by the teachers who had so willingly helped her relearn the things in which they had already long ago given her instruction, Williams changed her major to elementary education.
And though the following years would be a challenge, she has now finished with top academic marks and leaves SUU summa cum laude, with a 3.8 GPA and high praises from her professors.
“Jordan has a quiet strength I have never seen before in a student,” said assistant professor of elementary education Brian Ludlow. “You would never guess she struggles with reading and other symptoms of her disease, because her internal beauty shines brighter than any of her scars.”
Though under very different circumstances, a similar determination is evident in 2013 grad Craig Randall, who came to SUU after being told all his life that college wasn’t a possibility.
Randall barely graduated from high school and then began working at Hill Air Force Base, with no aspirations to continue his schooling. But as the years went on and Williams was repeatedly denied promotions because he lacked a college degree, he realized he wanted and was capable of more. At the age of 34, with three daughters in tow, Randall quit his job and moved his family 265 miles to begin school at SUU.
Now six years later, Randall has a much brighter outlook on life and knows that his graduation from SUU marks a changing future for his family.
“I saw how things were for my family and I knew I didn’t want that for my daughters. I had to stop the cycle of underachievement that had been prevalent in my family for generations,” he explained.
With encouragement from the University’s Student Support Services, Randall gained a better vision of his future aspirations and the support to complete the steps toward that goal that had initially seemed all too daunting. He excelled in math and English for the first time since he was a young child and now graduates as one of the top students within his major.
“Craig has a determination about him that is extraordinary,” said John Shafer, academic support coordinator within Student Support Services. “He came to SUU knowing exactly what he wanted to do, and he has done that and more. He has made great use of his talent and has become a great role model for his children.”
Though just a very small sampling of all the stories among this year’s graduates, one thing is clear: the Class of 2013 leaves SUU with a solid foundation and great promise.
In turn, they leave behind inspiration for others, fellow students and professors, that this time in college—the SUU experience—can take students further than they may have ever imagined..
Congratulations to all our Class of 2013 Thunderbirds. We have high hopes of the great heights to which you will soar.