Young urges Valpo grads to lead purposeful lives, give themselves grace

Graduates at Valparaiso University Saturday were encouraged to go forward, take what they have learned, and use their precious time to lead purposeful, fulfilled lives.

“Class of 2024, time is indeed the most valuable commodity,” U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, said.

Young delivered the commencement address at the ceremony for the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Business Saturday morning and went on to deliver the address for the afternoon graduates from the College of Engineering and the College of Nursing and Health Professionals.

“We are suffering from a bout of national procrastination. Petty distractions prevent us from addressing challenges to our security, our economy, our union. Challenges that we all share responsibility for solving,” Young said, adding too often people are aggrieved, easily offended, and increasingly cynical. Collectively, that robs people of self-determination and discourages self-reflection while sowing dysfunction.

“But as importantly, they squander time, precious time, precious time. We have so little of it in our lives and so much work before us. Break the spell of these trends. You have it within your power. Focus on the essential. Your time here at Valparaiso University will not be defined by this difficult period. Instead, it will be defined by what you do next and that can be enriched by lessons you have learned from this experience,” Young said.

Young said he knows for many graduating Saturday the college experience was unconventional, beginning in a global pandemic and ending in a time of division and unrest.

“Your generation’s college experience was unusual,” Young said, adding students faced classes on Zoom, chapel service on YouTube, social distancing and social media — both of which keep people apart.

He said students have barely had a chance to be college students before they must go off in a world seemingly chaos. Throughout history, terrible crises have sent civilizations spiraling or ushered in eras or renewal, Young said.

“As a society, it seems we have yet to make our choice. Each of you can make your own choice,” Young said.

He encouraged graduates to find grace for others and themselves, and recognize what is trivial and let it pass.

“Giving your time and energy to your friends and community will bring lasting fulfillment to your lives, I assure you. Insults on Instagram will soon be forgotten,” Young said.

He urged graduates to take their education and ability to think critically and lead lives of purpose and meaning each day.

“When they draw to an end each of you draws your last breath, you will have made a difference and that will last,” Young said.

Graduate Jaylen Jai’shawn Jude shared the story of his journey to Valparaiso University and one of the fundamental beliefs that have shaped his journey as a speaker during the first ceremony.

“Never judge a person by where they stand because you don’t know how far they have come,” Jude said.

“I’m Jaylen Jude, a kid from Gary, Indiana, and my path to Valparaiso University has been far from conventional. Growing up, I faced challenges many cannot fathom,” Jude said. He thanked his mother for the sacrifices she made in raising him and two siblings alone without a support system. He attended VU on a Lilly Endowment full-ride scholarship.

“It’s easy for people to judge us based on our current circumstances. Do they truly understand the struggles, sacrifices and sleepless nights…? Graduates, never forget your journey. It is the essence of your strength,” Jude said.

Nearly 600 students received undergraduate degrees and another 250 received graduate degrees over the course of the two ceremonies.

Chris Gatlin of Chicago earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science with a minor in social work and math.

“I like problem-solving. It’s challenging and has a good career outlook,” Gatlin said. He is hoping to land a position in data analytics. Gatlin, who came to VU as a high school graduate, said he is excited to graduate on stage.

“It was a lot of hard work. I doubted myself along the way but I made it here. I’m happy and proud of myself,” Gatlin said.

Fatima Garcia-Cardenas of Portage proudly wore a sash indicating she was the first in her family to graduate college.

“A lot of everything was new to me. I didn’t have anyone (in my family) to guide me,” Garcia-Cadenas said, adding she was fortunate to rely on a family friend to help her navigate. She earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations.

“It’s exciting. I have a new chapter ahead of me,” she said.

Diego Orozco of Valparaiso was continuing his education, earning a masters in business administration. Diego said he came to the U.S. from Mexico in 2003 to pursue graduate education and earned a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering. He has been working for a medical device maker and has been in management for the past five or six years.

“My management skills are directly from my peers. I lacked formal education. I learned the good and the bad. I wanted to get a more formal education and understand the big picture of how corporate America works in a global space,” Orozco said.