YSU Commencement Looks to Grads’ Future – and the City’s

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Traditionally, college graduation ceremonies are a reflection on students’ experiences there. And while there was plenty of looking back on college careers, commencement speakers at Youngstown State University looked toward the future and what it holds for students, the university, the city and the world.

“You are accepting the role of a responsible citizen of the world. Your degree allows you to not only make yourself better, but to take on a leadership role in making your community better,” YSU President Jim Tressel said during the morning ceremony.

Added Leonard Schiavone, a member of the YSU Board of Trustees, “Here today, we see the best results of our effort and the effort of the entire YSU family. There are hundreds of graduates about to go forward and make their mark on the world.”

The first student to receive a degree Saturday was Kyle Myers, who studied material science and engineering, awarded with YSU’s first Ph.D. The program, created in 2012, has nine doctoral candidates. In total, nine doctoral degrees across three disciplines were conferred.

Among other motable graduates, noted Martin Abraham, YSU’s provost, were Jana Janson, a former member of the YSU swim team who will begin working in the international trade industry in Stuttgart, Germany, later this year; electrical engineering major Kyle Spickler, who has accepted a job at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.; Ahmed Sutton, the founding president of the YSU Minority Education Association and the program coordinator and minority member-at-large for the Ohio State Education Association; and Christine Good, who received a bachelor of science in human resource management and has accepted a job at ABC Television Group.

Some 1,500 students at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels graduated at the two-part ceremony.

“We are proud to be able to add all of you with the list of things you’ll be doing,” Abraham said. “You have all worked hard and worked long and you have achieved a great milestone.”

Both commencement speakers for the day’s first ceremony – Andrea Wood, publisher of The Business Journal, and YSU student Jennifer Miller — looked at their personal pasts with the city and the university to find bright spots in the Mahoning Valley’s future. Joseph Carson, director of economic research at AllianceBernstein, New York, and Claudia Gage, graduating from the theater studies program, spoke during the afternoon commencement.

Wood, who was conferred an honorary doctor of letters degree at the ceremony,  referred to three local slogans and brands – Stuck in Ohio, Defend Youngstown and We Are A Generation – to impart the importance of where the students are. She told how she came to Youngstown in 1974 for her first broadcasting job, “when mills were pumping.” She left for other TV jobs. When she returned to WYTV in 1979, her mother urged her to reconsider, Wood recalled, warning, “You’ll get stuck in Youngstown.”

“She was right. And my life found its purpose,” she said.

“Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley are like blank canvases,” Wood told the students. “In the past 40 years, I’ve witnessed the Valley fall, get back up, be described in boxing metaphors and as the epicenter of the Rust Belt.”

Two recent events that drew hundreds of participants and visitors, Federal Frenzy and the Youngstown Flea Market for Makers, were organized and hosted by YSU students, current and former, on April 23 around downtown. A day like that, Wood continued, shows what’s available in the Mahoning Valley for those willing to create their own opportunities.

“I’ve seen the brain drain reversed into brain gains, young adults becoming entrepreneurs, creating and engineering products and growth for manufacturers and home-grown companies. … Young adults opening art galleries, creating community gardens and revitalizing neighborhoods,” she said. “There is so much more work that needs to be done to recreate the Mahoning Valley and we need your help.”

That kind of spirit doesn’t have to be confined to Youngstown or the Valley, she said, but the mentality can surely be fostered and grown here.

“I’m asking you today to be creative, to take risks, to be a part of making this city better and your community better, wherever that ends up being,” she said.

Miller, who graduated with a baccalaureate in chemistry, pointed to a thriving downtown and an expanding campus amid the doom and gloom narrative promoted by outsiders.

“There are people who have the audacity to say that we’re a dead city, that we’re not going anywhere, that we’re not worthwhile,” she said. “Instead of believing in other people’s dreams for our city, we’ve taken ownership and shown them what Youngstown can do.”

By learning in a city that’s the subject of such talk, YSU students have been given a chance to learn unique lessons that the can carry with them after they move the tassels on their graduation caps.

“I’m going to take the lessons YSU has taught me about valuing people, believing in others and believing in myself to give everything to my dream,” Miller said. “I hope you step forward with boldness and resilience. … If we can do that and stand tall and proud as YSU Penguins, never forgetting where we came from, I can promise you the world will know Youngstown, Ohio.”

Pictured: Youngstown State University held its spring commencement Saturday.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.