President Doug Baker told the audience at Sunday’s 2 p.m. ceremony about Luis Hernandez, a graduate from Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education.
During Saturday’s Graduate School ceremony, the president spoke about Kaneez Fatima and Sadia Qamar, who earned master’s degrees in Early Childhood Studies.
Here are President Baker’s comments.
Luis Hernandez sees the world differently than most – and in more ways than one.
Talk to him and you’ll hear about the infinite complexities of everything around us. Of questions for which there are currently no answers. Of the lack of enough lifetimes to understand, or even solve, just a fraction of the puzzles of the universe.
Or the endless possibilities to unlock some of these solutions through simply improving mathematical literacy.
“It’s mindboggling,” Luis says, “how complicated reality is.”
He graduates today with a degree in kinesiology, a fascinating field that drew him in through its beautiful combination of sciences and disciplines.
To many, it’s all about exercise. To Luis, though, it’s math. It’s physics. It’s biology, chemistry and even philosophy.
Raised in Chicago Heights since fourth-grade, Luis has spent his time at NIU nurturing a deep passion for research.
Working with dollars provided by our undergraduate research programs, he’s completed two projects, he has another in progress – and he has appreciated the autonomy provided by faculty mentors.
One study explored lower-body strength. The other examined how video game-based exercise can improve balance and reduce falls in the elderly. Now he’s looking into possible benefits of working out more often than generally recommended.
Next month, Luis begins courses in the College of Education’s graduate program in Exercise Physiology and Fitness Leadership on his path toward a doctorate and work in research or higher education.
That decision keeps him among faculty who know and respect him – and on familiar ground, something important for Luis, who is visually impaired.
Born with no sight in his right eye and an underdeveloped optic nerve in his left eye, he is legally blind though he can still “see” to a limited degree. He’s never considered it a deficit, though, because he’s never experienced “normal” visual acuity.
Luis relies on other senses, including hearing and touch, to maneuver his surroundings and expand his mind. You also might spot him using the camera on his phone to zoom in on the chalkboard.
Congratulations, Luis! I’m excited to glimpse our vivid tomorrows through your eyes.
and Sadia Qamar
For Kaneez Fatima and Sadia Qamar, the walk across this stage today is paved with self-awareness, passion, commitment and courage.
As trainers of teachers in their native Pakistan – and as talented and devoted teachers themselves – Kaneez and Sadia realized that to make a greater impact on elementary education in their homeland, they needed to enhance their knowledge.
They dedicated themselves to securing that opportunity, and beat out thousands of applicants to secure two of only 27 scholarship offered by the United States Agency for International Development.
They applied themselves relentlessly. They completed six months of English training in half that time; they attended every day of their College of Education classes; they not only joined student organizations, they became leaders.
And they bravely rose above their country’s male-dominated culture to make independent decisions – decisions to not only travel but to live abroad … by themselves – for the purpose of advancing their own higher education. Such choices are not made lightly.
Now, as they earn master’s degrees in Early Childhood Education, they soon will return to Pakistan to reunite with loved ones and to resume their work.
Beyond the lessons they impart about American ways of learning – of teachers who empower students to facilitate their own discovery, who function as partners in that journey – they will quietly demonstrate the magnitude of what they have undertaken.
Kaneez knows from encounters with teachers in Pakistan that they want to deliver innovative and impactful instruction – but that they need professional support to do so. She will provide that, taking home with her influence and ideas not only from classmates in the United States but from many other countries, including China and Nigeria.
Sadia, who has found within herself a confidence, is eager to evangelize for the profound value of early childhood education – of the foundation it sets for future academic achievement. It’s not generally acknowledged in Pakistan, but she will change that.
Both women want teachers to know that a lack of resources cannot overpower passion for the job and solid educational strategies. That students with special needs are capable and deserving. That parents should encourage and accompany their children in learning, literally going hand-in-hand on educational adventures in and out of the classroom.
Their message to teachers back home – and to the children they teach – is forceful: Believe you can do something.
And, in their lives, they already have – not only for themselves but for generations to come. Congratulations!