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CEPS Commencement

“If You Were Not Supposed to Be Here, You Wouldn’t Be”

CEPS Commencement Speech, Saturday, May 10, 2014

By Katherine (Katie) Ozark

(Special Education with a Dual Certification in Elementary Education)


My fellow graduates, today is the day we finally get to celebrate all of our hard work. The countless hours spent sitting in the fish bowl of Booth, wondering if we were actually going to finish that paper on time, the numerous times we went to late night in Thomas just to get the energy to pull that all-nighter, not seeing our friends, family, or children for days on end during finals week, and walking in every element possible, including that “ice apocalypse” that happened in Spring 2011 just so we could get to class. Through all of these we were able to persevere and find ourselves here today as graduates.

In my time at Eastern there have been many events that have shaped me into the person I’ve become today. I’ve taken many classes, but none of them compared to my final Special Education class. Since I was a freshman I was told that everything we did in all of our classes would lead up to this last class. For those of you who are not Special Education majors and did not have to take this class, I would like to put into context for you all of my thoughts and fears heading into it. Some of the rumors I heard were that: “It will be the hardest class you’ll ever take,” “You will feel so overloaded with the course work that you will inevitably break down,” and that “You will cry…a lot.”

Understandably, going into my first day of this class I was a nervous wreck. It started out like any other first day of class where you go over the syllabus and the semester calendar until my professor, told us to get out a piece of paper and something to write with. My entire class at this point was already worried and anxious from the amount of work she had told us we would be doing this semester, so starting class notes on the very first day was no surprise.

However, she then told us to copy what she was about to tell us word for word. When everyone was ready she had us write, “If I were not supposed to be here, I wouldn’t be.” She followed this up by saying that she wanted us to put that quote in a place where we would see it every single day. I decided to put mine at the very front of my journal so that I would open and see it every day before class.

I had come to a rough patch in the semester and began to question if I was even capable of finishing this major and going on in this career path. What made this period of time even worse was that I was already in my fourth year and I honestly had never wanted to become anything other than a special education teacher. I had never been challenged by a class to this extent before, and so I decided to e-mail my professor and share my concerns.

My professor’s response is one that will stick with me for the rest of my life. She told me to “hush”, and then reminded me of the quote I wrote down on the first day of class. She reiterated that if I was not supposed to be in this major, I wouldn’t be. Those eleven words were all it took to relieve the doubts I was having about myself. I even still have that journal page to this day. After that email exchange, I had a new sense of confidence and never looked back. So
despite how difficult I thought the class was at the time, I know that it changed me for the better and I could not be more grateful.

I wanted to share this story with all of you because I believe it is one that can apply to everyone’s life. We all had our own individual struggles and hardships during our time here at Eastern, but we persevered through it all. Now, we are all here today because of that determination. However, I know as well as all of you that we could not have done this without the support of our family, friends, professors and the many others who helped guide and encourage us throughout our time here at Eastern Illinois University. So on behalf of all of my fellow graduates, I would like to give a big thank you to everyone in this audience, as well as those who could not be here or are no longer with us, because we would not be here without all of you.

So to the class of 2014, I would like to say just one last thing before we leave here today. Even though we thank our loved ones for supporting us through this journey, I want you to always remember that YOU are the one that spent all those hours in the library, YOU are the one that pulled those all nighters, YOU are the one who sacrificed time away from your loved ones, and YOU are the one who trudged through the snow, sleet, and pouring rain just so you could be in class.

All of our experiences here at Eastern Illinois University, have shaped us to be the brilliant group of people sitting here before me today. As we look to the future, we will take all that we have learned and received from Eastern and know that we are better for being a graduate of this exceptional university. I am EIU, you are EIU, we are all EIU forever!

You deserve this day and all of the successes that will happen to you in the future, so don’t let anyone ever try to tell you differently, because, as a wise professor once told me, “If you were not supposed to be here, you wouldn’t be.” Congratulations to all EIU graduates!