When celebrities make commencement speeches, it often makes the news, but at Texas A&M University, it’s a day to spotlight Aggies and their unique and sometimes challenging journeys to graduation day.
This year’s graduates have persevered in spite of a global pandemic, social unrest and a damaging winter storm. Through it all, Aggies stayed the course and 11,406 students are earning their college degrees over the span of 34 graduations at Reed Arena on the Texas A&M campus.
Three of those students spoke at their respective colleges’ ceremonies, sharing their journeys and thanking those who helped them along the way.
Casey Kirk, BA Education (Special Education)
Kirk addressed attendees at the commencement ceremony for the College of Education & Human Development on Wednesday evening, telling the story of her and her twin sister’s premature births at 25 weeks. “I made it with a mild heart condition, while my twin sister Taylor was born with Cerebral Palsy,” she said.
A second-generation Aggie from College Station, Kirk described a particularly moving photo in her family album, saying, “…the one that stands out to me the most is a picture of myself weighing two pounds, laying in the NICU with my dad’s Aggie ring slid up on my tiny arm,” she said. “That shiny piece of Aggie gold has been a symbol for determination from the very start, and I am honored to stand here today with my very own Aggie ring waiting to walk across the stage to receive my diploma.”
She said her decision to pursue a career in special education stemmed partially from growing up with a sibling with special needs, but also one particular lecture in “Introduction to Special Populations,” taught by Melissa Fogarty, professor of educational psychology.
“The first day of class, Dr. Fogarty opened up with a lecture on ‘
People First Language,'” she said. “This lecture was all about how a disability does not define the person and how we should treat those with disabilities as typical humans with typical needs and desires.
“I remember the rush of emotions that filled my body because I had never heard anyone speak about this uncommon topic that was so close to my heart,” she continued. “This is the moment my heart knew where it was supposed to be.”
Cynthia S. Segura, BS Public Health
Segura, now a graduate of the School of Public Health, spoke at the Wednesday morning ceremony, sharing her experiences as a parenting student and domestic abuse survivor.
“What only a few individuals know is I was being domestically abused,” she told the audience.
“I developed postpartum depression at the same time I was learning about it in class… I was advocating for women’s health in class but experiencing abuse from my former partner firsthand.”
Segura said she was only able to improve her situation and complete her studies thanks to those in her life who “continued to inspire me to chase my dreams.”
After commencement, she said she hopes speaking out on her experience “will inspire at least one other individual to continue to dream big.”
John William Whitehead, MPSA Public Service and Administration
At Friday’s midday ceremony, Whitehead addressed fellow Bush School master’s graduates.
The non-traditional student said he was pleasantly surprised by the traditions at Texas A&M.
“I remember thinking how odd it was to say ‘Howdy’ and while I never did an Elephant Walk, I can say that last October – after 29 years of marriage – Sue and I made sure to walk under the Century Tree, just to seal the deal,” he said.
With a lifelong interest in public service, Whitehead focused on Emergency Service, first earning a certificate in homeland security from the Bush School followed by a master’s in public service and administration, completing his degree with a 4.0 GPR.
“I feel I’m ready to continue my career and walk proudly off this stage with the knowledge and experience A&M has provided,” he said.