Nina Lee is the commencement speaker for UAA’s class of 2017

Nina Lee follows in the shoes of 2016 fall commencement speaker, Sophie Leshan, another graduate of the early childhood education program. Photo credit: Sarah Tangog

This year’s commencement speech will be given by Nina Lee, early childhood major. Though she started going to college in San Diego, she eventually dropped out and decided to come to UAA instead.

“I started classes at UAA in 2010. I did not do well then either, I didn’t finish any of the classes that I started,” Lee said. “I began my undergrad in spring 2015 with 13 credits from San Diego, and finished my undergrad in two years.”

Because of her story, Lee was compelled to apply as the commencement speaker the moment she started her undergraduate education.

“I feel my story and how I got here is very relatable, and that UAA’s community is very unique in that it houses both traditional students, but also non-traditional students. That’s me,” Lee said.

The commencement speaker is ultimately chosen by Vice Chancellor Bruce Schultz.

“In selecting the student commencement speaker, I consider the totality of the process and rely heavily on the evaluations of the students who served on the committee that reviews, evaluates and recommends finalists to me,” Schultz said. “Drawing on the recommendation of the evaluation committee, I make the final selection for student commencement speaker.”

The committee itself is usually composed of at least one faculty member, the Faculty Senate President, and several graduating students. Paula Fish from Student Life and Leadership provides assistance for the committee.

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“My role with the commencement speaker is just coordinating and helping the selection committee or the review committee, in selecting or providing advisement to the Vice Chancellor on who to select,” Fish said. “The Vice Chancellor looks at a student from the pool of students who really exemplifies UAA.”

The student chosen is picked not only for their academic and community involvement, but also for the uniqueness of their story.

“We want students to feel like it’s not something that can’t be attained,” Fish said.

Though the role of the commencement speaker is chosen from a pool of applicants, the applicants can be any student with any background story.

“I’m really grateful for the opportunity to communicate my journey,” Lee said. “The most important role of a commencement speaker, I feel, is to communicate the challenges that we all face as students, and just relating to each other in a unifying way so that we can all accomplish a common goal of graduating. You’re capable of anything. If you set your mind to it, you can achieve it. Coming from someone who didn’t think I would ever graduate college, how I got to this point was with the support of my friends and my family.”

Lee believes that a great contributor to her success is the help she’s had along the way. She encourages students to seek friendships with peers and build relationships with professors and mentors, as it can help along the way.