Pomp and circumstance: NIU celebrates fall commencement

capNIU College of Education graduates stepped in the spotlight last month during the fall commencement ceremonies.

Acting NIU President Lisa Freeman told the audience at the Dec. 17 undergraduate ceremony about Nick Wilstie, who earned a bachelor’s in Physical Education.

During the Dec. 16 Graduate School ceremony, Freeman spoke about Jeff Ware, who earned a doctorate in Curriculum Leadership.

Here are President Freeman’s comments.

Nick Wiltsie

Nick Wiltsie lives by two words: role model.

Nick Wiltsie
Nick Wiltsie

He counts many in his world. His parents, Wade and Jody. His high school gym teacher, Mr. Crabel. His fellow soldiers.

And a role model is what Nick has already become. To his four younger siblings. To his fellow cadets in the ROTC. To sophomores and seniors at St. Charles North, where he student-taught this fall.

Finally, continuing as a role model … continuing to inspire, motivate and shape … is what Nick plans for the rest of his life.

During high school, he envisioned his future in teaching P.E., just like Mr. Crabel.

With today’s degree in Physical Education, he sees the gymnasium as where he can exercise his gifts of mentoring and advising young people into the best people they can be.

It’s where teens without positive, guiding lights in their lives can find one in him. It’s where he will teach lifelong, fun and healthy skills of physical activity.

But that career must wait.

Two days ago, Nick proudly stood in our Sandburg Auditorium for commissioning as an officer in the U.S. Army. In doing so, he realized the dream he’s nurtured since second-grade in Elgin, Illinois.

When Nick visited NIU in high school, he connected with ROTC. He enlisted in the Army Reserves fresh from graduation in 2013, serving one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer ever since. He is the first member of the military from his family.

In ROTC, he became Cadet of the Month … and Cadet of the Year. He earned three Army achievement medals.

Now he is ready to lead soldiers … something he considers parallel to teaching students … in serving, as he says, “God, country and family” … in protecting the nation he loves.

Motivated by faith … driven by community service … he embodies the philosophy he instills in others: Find something you love to do … and do it. Congratulations, Nick!

Jeff Ware

NIU graduates make a difference in the lives of people across our Chicago region … and also across the world.

Jeff Ware
Jeff Ware

Jeff Ware, who receives his doctorate today in Curriculum Leadership, provides an inspiring example.

For 25 years, he taught Spanish at Glenbrook North High School, in the affluent suburb of Northbrook.  In 2015, he left that post to work with the impoverished in Guatemala, one of the world’s poorest nations. Nearly half of the 16 million people there live on less than $2 a day.

As executive director of the nonprofit Hope Renewed International in Guatemala, Jeff oversees job programs; scholarships for children and adults from the slums; a home for girls who have been abused, abandoned or neglected; and a pre-school located on the outskirts of Central America’s largest garbage dump, where many of the children’s parents eke out a living scavenging.

Jeff wants the poorest of the poor to have the same opportunities for education as their peers living outside the dump. He has plans to expand the pre-school into an elementary school … to create a home for adolescent boys living on the streets … and to help develop a nursing education program.

Says NIU curriculum instruction professor Elizabeth Wilkins, “Jeff is working to change a country, and he knows the way to do it is through education.”

Jeff began working on his doctorate in 2009. When he answered this new calling, some suggested he put the dissertation aside.

But Jeff couldn’t let go … even if it meant working across borders, over a sketchy Internet connection and at all hours of the night.

“Credentials in Latin America mean a lot because not many people have them,” he says. His efforts also provided an important example to young people there.

Now he’s putting his high-level expertise to use in numerous ways, from providing input on curriculum to creating research-backed programs for the poor. And he says he’s forever grateful for the flexibility, encouragement and expertise of NIU faculty, particularly professors Wilkins and Thomas Smith.

We think Jeff in turn provides inspiration to all of us. Congratulations, Dr. Jeff Ware! We’re proud to call you an NIU alumnus.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email