YSU graduates 485

Correspondent photo / Sean Barron From left, Kayla Sheridan, Emma Vickers, Logan Gregg, Breanne Martin, Jessica Ray, Hannah Day, Kayla Mehle and Lindsey Opritza display their red shoes before getting their degrees in social work from Youngstown State University during fall commencement Sunday. The red shoes are part of a tradition the close-knit group follows to raise awareness of the value of social work, Day said.

YOUNGSTOWN — It’s been said that some people wear their hearts on their sleeve. Hannah Day wore her major on her cap.

“I thought about it for a while and said, ‘Let’s try it out,’ and I fell in love with it,” Day said about social work.

The Youngstown State University graduate likely found another reason to fall in love, because she received a bachelor’s degree in the field during Sunday afternoon’s fall commencement in YSU’s Beeghly Center.

During the ceremony, Day wore her cap that contained the inscription “Social work is love made visible.” The saying conveys her desire to help people navigate through traumatic situations in their lives, better perform activities of daily living, learn important life skills and other related duties, she explained.

Day and a group of tight-knit social-work majors also wore red shoes, which is in keeping with a tradition started several years ago. The underlying idea is to raise greater awareness of the importance of social work, and because “it keeps us tight. It’s kind of a bonding thing,” she said.

Day, a 2013 Canfield High School grad, already has a job lined up as a case manager with Coleman Professional Services, she said.

An estimated 485 grads from YSU’s Bitonte College of Health and Human Services; College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences; Williamson College of Business Administration; College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics; Beeghly College of Education; Cliffe College of Creative Arts and Communication; and the College of Graduate Studies took home degrees after the three-hour program.

The four students who earned doctorate degrees were Timothy S. Freeman, Anne M. Pyros, Michael T. Leitera and Christopher A. Barrett.

Also happy to return home with degree in hand was James Higgs Sr. of Boardman, a nontraditional student who returned to YSU 12 years after having graduated in 2002 from The Rayen School.

“I was in the (child-welfare) system, but a lot of children are not getting opportunities, so I wanted to give back.

It’s something that kind of chose me,” Higgs said about the driving force behind his decision to major in social work and land a career in the system.

Higgs recalled that he and four siblings were adopted and lived with the same loving and caring family — another main reason for his decision to return to the university, pursue his career choice and “be an asset,” he said.

In the meantime, he was proud to cross the stage in a cap that on top was the simple message, “Congrats Daddy.” That was the decorative work of Higgs’ five children, Jax, Jameson, Kyndall, James Jr. and Ka’miya, ages 1 to 14.

Delivering the keynote address was Dr. Helen K. Lafferty, an Ursuline High School grad who’s a professor of liberal arts and sciences at Villanova University in Villanova, Pa.

“YSU played a significant role in my life to do what I love with people I love in the place I love,” said Lafferty, who also taught a course titled “The Philosophy of Education” to prison inmates working to earn degrees.

She told the students that they are now equipped to use their special skills and talents to better the world. YSU laid the foundation for her to assume a leadership position, and the grads can use their experiences at the university to refine their leadership abilities in science, poetry, education, engineering and numerous other endeavors, Lafferty said.

“You serve best by doing what you do best,” she said, adding that the grads would do well to also remember that confidence, competence and community can go a long way toward defining their future and character, as well as working to improve their communities.

YSU President Jim Tressel echoed Lafferty’s wish, saying he hopes the students will use their degrees to take active roles to better their communities, strive to increase excellence in all they do, make a difference in the world and set their goals high.

Tressel also had student veterans and those in the audience stand to be recognized for their service to the nation, which was met with applause. Grads who served in the military wore red, white and blue cords with their caps and gowns.

“These past few years have taught me to stop being afraid of what could go wrong … and have excitement about what could go right,” Rochelle D. Richardson, who graduated with a master’s degree in clinical mental health, said in her student reflection.

Richardson, who’s also a licensed social worker, encouraged her fellow grads to place themselves first regarding career decisions, explore “unchartered territories” in life and step outside of their comfort zones.

Making additional remarks was Brien N. Smith, provost and vice president for academic affairs.


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