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Commencement Friday | Recapping a day of honors and achievements

Grads offer anecdotes while celebrating at program-specific award ceremonies

Steve Jones

Spalding kicked off commencement weekend on Friday with a bevy of activity on and around campus as the university held its baccalaureate service and program-specific award ceremonies to celebrate graduates from the 2017-18 school year. Spalding’s full, official commencement will take place 10 a.m. Saturday at Canaan Christian Church.

We talked to several graduates on Friday, looking back on their Spalding journeys. Here is a compilation of stories.

Also, check out lots of pictures of Friday on the Spalding Facebook album titled “Commencement Activities 2018.” (Check back on the same link for pictures of Saturday’s exercises as well.)

Yamira Rafael, wearing cap and gown, surrounded by smiling relatives
BSSW grad Yamira Rafael and her family, including grandparents from Peru

Loved ones visit from afar

Yamira Rafael brought in some long-distance visitors this weekend to celebrate her bachelor of science in social work degree. Rafael’s grandparents traveled from Peru to be here to watch her become the first member of their family to graduate from college.

Rafael’s parents are originally from Peru, and she was born in Florida, then has lived most of her life in Louisville, where she graduated from Atherton High School.

“It’s been a wild ride,” she said. “I had to learn everything by myself. I didn’t know how to apply for college, didn’t know about the ACT. I’ve just kind of been winging it and learned as I went.

“It’s cool. It’s exciting. I just want to continue going on and on. It was an exhausting ride, but it’s very rewarding.”

In becoming a first-generation graduate, she said she’s setting an example for her younger siblings. She said with a laugh that they look up to the new grad “like I’m their president, like I’m royalty right now.”

Rafael has used her fluency in Spanish to help in her practicum work at the Center of Women and Families. “It’s needed, very needed,” she said.

Rafael’s Spalding training isn’t over yet.

On her mortarboard, she wrote: “I’LL BE BACK … Terminator voice.” She’ll return to Spalding in the fall to begin pursuit of her master’s of social work.

Rick Blackwell, wearing black gap and gown, and smiling wife, Sherry.
Dr. Rick Blackwell, 2018 EdD grad, with his wife, Sherry. Dr. Blackwell is a Spalding trustee and Metro Councilman

Councilman Blackwell now aka Dr. Blackwell

Rick Blackwell, a Louisville Metro Councilman who is also a Spalding trustee, attended the College of Education awards service to celebrate the completion of his doctorate of education in leadership (EdD).

“When you start the program, of course, finishing is your goal, and there are times you’re not quite sure you’re going to make it,” he said with a laugh. “I’m very excited to finish it out.”

“It was a great experience. The faculty and the professors are awesome. They do everything they can to help you through, going way above and beyond. And I really enjoyed my cohort. I’ve got those connections forever.”

Blackwell, who is the new president at DeSales High School, wrote his dissertation on the effects of service learning on high school students’ civic engagement.

Blackwell said earning his doctorate ranks highly among the accomplishments of his career, and that’s saying something for a man who has already won elections and been hired for important leadership jobs.

“It’s not an easy feat, and it’s not an easy feat if you got other things going on, and I certainly did,” said Blackwell, who received a formal proclamation in May from the Metro Council to celebrate his Spalding EdD.

Cynthia Eddings-King, in black cap and gown, standing on steps, surrounded by smiling family
EdD grad Dr. Cynthia Eddings-King and her family outside College of Education awards ceremony

Spalding embraces ‘the working learner’

Another EdD grad, Dr. Cynthia Eddings-King, who is the Magnet coordinator at Central High School, has received her second degree from Spalding. She also holds a 2007 master’s of arts in teaching,

“(Spalding’s College of Education programs) embrace the working learner,” she said. “I’m indeed a worker, and I love to learn. They work with your schedule, and it’s always great to continue to be educated in the field.”

At a time when the teaching profession feels somewhat under fire, Eddings-King said teaching remains “of the utmost importance” and that teachers should keep continuing their own education.

Eddings-King’s dissertation was called, “Meeting readiness benchmarks: Perceptions of African-American males in the Midwest,” and she said it showed that young black students are eager to build better relationships with their teachers and have a desire for their neighborhoods to work better with schools to offer more community centers and support outside the classroom.

Video: Muncy a model for student leadership

Bachelor of science in health science grad Chris Muncy, who served two terms as Student Government Association president and held myriad other leadership positions while at Spalding, spoke with Spalding digital producer Audrey Cecil about his time in college. Check out that video here, and read a story about Chris at this link.

Shelby Keeling and Celine Seger, wearing blue graduation gowns
Shelby Keeling, left, and Celine Seger, 2018 BSN grads

New alumni for historic
nursing program

Spalding’s history is rooted in nursing, having been the first university in the state to confer baccalaureate nursing degrees in 1933.

Eighty-five years later, the School of Nursing’s newest graduates appreciate having their name associated with that history.

“It’s pretty awesome being a grad of a school that’s been around for so long,” said BSN grad Celine Seger. “In Louisville, it’s so well-known. When anybody sees that you’re a Spalding nursing grad, they know exactly what that means and how hard you worked for it.”

For Shelby Keeling, her new BSN degree means that she’s the first person in her family to graduate from college.

“It’s a big accomplishment,” said Keeling, who had the message, “She believed she could so she did,” decorated atop her blue graduation cap. “My family is really proud of me. It’s a really well-known nursing school. They have a great nursing program.”

Both Keeling and Seger are off to a great start in their nursing careers.

Keeling has already been hired at the downtown Norton Hospital, specializing in oncology nursing. Seger has a job at Norton Audubon.

Seger said Spalding’s nursing program helped her land that job quickly, setting her up with a Norton hiring event and assisting her in the interview process.

“On the floor now at the hospital, everyone says, ‘Oh, you’re from Spalding,’ Seger said. “It’s just really cool to be a part of that tradition and high of prestige.”

‘The faculty is truly amazing here’

BSHS graduate Jessica Knebel, who will continue on in Spalding’s master of science in occupational therapy program next year, credited Spalding’s faculty and staff for helping her reach the finish line as an undergraduate.

“I had a chemistry teacher stay after every day to make sure I understood because chemistry is not my thing,” she said. “The faculty is truly amazing here. They go above and beyond to make sure that you’re happy and everything is going well for you.”

Knebel singled out academic adviser Nikki Shedletsky for her constant encouragement.

“I’d cry, and she’d tell me that I’d make it and that I’d get there one day,” Knebel said. “And here we are.”

Breanne Cura, holding her young son, Jericho
Breanne Cura, 2018 BSHS grad, and her young son, Jericho

Young mom a new grad

Another BSHS-to-MSOT Spalding student, Breanne Cura, said commencement weekend is memorable to her because she had her 21-month-old son, Jericho, with her.

Cura had to take six months off from school when she had her baby, but she was proud of how she got back on track and thankful for the support she received from faculty.

By having six-week academic sessions, Cura said she was able to manage her time well by having only to focus on a couple of courses at a time.

“It definitely feels good to know that I was able to overcome some of the bumps that were in the road,” Cura said. “With the environment here at Spalding, where it’s very close-knit, friendly and really knows about you, it really brought my spirit up and helped me complete my bachelor’s degree.”

Having Jericho with her on Friday was a special moment.

“He’s a little too young to understand, but (by being at a college commencement) I feel like it brings him right into the direction I hope he goes to,” Cura said. “He’ll be able to look at the pictures we took on this day and see like, ‘Look, Mommy did this so that you can have all the things you have.'”

Kendra Unseld, wearing graduation cap, outside in front of library
Kendra Unseld, Master of Arts in School Guidance Counseling

New counselor would recommend Spalding

Kendra Unseld has earned her master of arts in school guidance counseling from the College of Education.

Now as she pursues a career as a counselor, she said “I’d definitely recommend Spalding to any student.”

“It’s a family-oriented school,” she said. “My favorite part is that it’s very close-knit. You can walk up to a teacher and ask anything, and they’re understanding of us being family people, having our own careers and children. And also, the small classroom setting is something I really like.”

She added with a laugh: “Plus, I got a scholarship, so that made it easy to attend.”