NIU celebrates fall commencement

NIU President Dr. Lisa C. Freeman
Lisa C. Freeman

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

President Dr. Lisa C. Freeman told the audience at the Dec. 15 undergraduate ceremony about Angie Lobdell, who earned a bachelor’s in Special Education.

One day earlier, she told the graduate school audience about Gina Britton, who received her master’s degree in Sport Management.

Here are President Freeman’s comments.

Angie Lobdell
Angie Lobdell

Angie Lobdell

Angie Lobdell didn’t really like children when she was younger.

But when she became a mother in 2001, she found a new calling … a responsibility … to do good in the best way she could … to help shape a future different … better … to counter the bad stuff and negativity she saw in the world.

And when her kids started school in downstate Sterling, Angie started working there … first as a paraprofessional, later as a reading aide … and soon knew her pre-motherhood career as a mortgage title closer was truly over.

She enrolled at Sauk Valley College, and when she met the academic advisor in our Department of Special and Early Education, she learned she could transfer to NIU a year earlier than expected. And I’m happy she did.

Not that it came without challenges.

Commuting an hour each way. Raising two teenagers, J.J. and Nate. Struggling to make ends meet in a one-income family of four. A diagnosis last December of hypothyroidism, which finally explained her hair loss … her weight gain … her numb hands. Overcoming early doubters who simply fueled her fire to go beyond what was expected of her.

Fortunately, Professor Toni Van Laarhoven assured Angie that she was in the right place here … and every step of Angie’s journey toward her bachelor’s in Special Ed has proven that.

She’s just finished 16 weeks of student-teaching to glowing evaluations. She’s an honors student with a 4.0. She’s conducted research with faculty, presenting that work on campus and in Hawaii. And she’s celebrating her ability to collaborate with classmates and professors … something she never imagined as a stay-at-home mom.

Best of all, she’s brimming with confidence … smiling at how her accomplishments are inspiring J.J. and Nate … and transferring this fortitude beyond school into a personal-life determination never to settle.

Congratulations, Angie!

Gina Britton
Gina Britton

Gina Britton

Gina Britton’s story begins in Japan … Okinawa, to be exact … where she was born while her dad, Jim, was stationed there with the U.S. Marine Corps.

But her birth on the other side of the world has proven only the first of a still-young life of twists, turns, challenges and triumphs.

The family soon returned … first to the Chicago suburbs, where dad and mom, Rosie, had met … and eventually, when Gina turned 7, to Rogers, Arkansas, where dad is a corporate pilot and mom is a substitute teacher.

Young Gina excelled in sports, mostly turning heads on the soccer field. College coaches recruited her, and in the fall of 2014, she joined the roster at Upper Iowa and majored in Elementary Ed.

During her sophomore season, though, stomach issues began to plague her.

The diagnosis? Ulcerative colitis.

Doctors prescribed a medicine that, as Gina says, her body didn’t take well. It triggered a still-unidentified autoimmune disease, and she began falling … losing weight … her speed, agility, strength, all deteriorating … then she couldn’t move her legs … and then her arms.

Mom came to provide 24/7 care as Gina somehow maintained her studies and made frequent trips to the Mayo Clinic. Immunoglobin treatments launched her slow recovery.

She amazingly graduated from Upper Iowa on time … but with the realization that she didn’t want to teach. She wanted a career that involved sports.

NIU’s Sport Management program impressed her the most, and here she’s flourished.

With guidance from Professor Steve Howell … who Gina says does a phenomenal job getting you the experience that you want … Gina landed a marketing internship with the Chicago Fire soccer team.

And when Dr. Howell drove students to the Mount Union Workshop job fair in Cleveland, advising them to make sure that they stood out from the crowd, Gina connected with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Today, I’m thrilled to say that she begins work January 8 in L.A. as an inside sales ticket rep.

Throughout all this, she has continued to receive weekly, three-hour immunoglobin treatments, work a graduate assistantship in Admissions and complete her master’s in only three semesters! She’s also run a pair of 5-Ks, including one organized by her former teammates from Upper Iowa.

Gina’s illness has not changed her goals, nor has she let it define her. It’s just part of her roller coaster ride, she will tell you.

Some days are good. Some days are bad and, on those days, you need to find the good. That comes from her support team of friends, faculty and, of course, family … and so many of them are here today cheering, including Mom, Dad, brothers Jimmy and Joe, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

Congratulations, Gina!

Please enjoy this photo gallery from Fall 2019 commencement! Click on each image for a full-size view.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email