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Graduates reflect on college experience

5/18/2014

By ELIZABETH GOLDEN

egolden@dailynews.net

Lisa Ishikuro lives in Hawaii. Tarent Tevis won the Collegiate Clay Target Championship twice. Tella Nimz practices a Japanese martial art. Robert Simington is transitioning from prison guard to elementary school teacher.

They are all members of Fort Hays State University's graduating class.

Ishikuro, who is receiving her master of liberal studies in ESL, visited campus for the first time to walk across the stage.

"This has been a long journey for me," she said. "I really wanted to have that experience of walking across the stage and being able to have that kind of closure and experience something really meaningful."

Ishikuro works full-time at Hawaii Pacific University, and couldn't find time to complete a traditional master's degree program.

"Most of the programs I looked at required other forms of coursework during the day, so it wouldn't work with my schedule," she said. "I just came across FHSU and this program. Everyone seemed to have had really good experiences here."

Ishikuro realized her love for ESL while teaching in Japan.

"It's so rewarding," she said. "I especially love working with beginning students and helping them understand the foundations of the language, and give them the tools to communicate globally. It's extremely meaningful to watch the students grow."

Ishikuro said this degree has been a goal of hers for quite some time, and she wouldn't be able to do it without her family.

"I have been grateful for the support of my husband, the support of my family, just being able to help me get to this point," she said, struggling through tears. "I'm getting choked up. It means so much to me to be able to finish this degree and know I have done something I have wanted to do for a long time."

Tevin, Haysville, who is graduating with a degree in agriculture business, is president of the FHSU shooting club. He has focused his senior year on helping his club increase allocations from the Student Government Association and give back to the community.

"We helped pick up trash and try to help out as much as we can," he said. "I'm trying to get the club more involved in the community."

Tevin began shooting 13 years ago.

"My dad wanted to teach my brother and me how to go pheasant hunting," he said. "A month or two later, my dad started the first youth shotgun team."

Looking back on his experiences at FHSU, Tevin is most proud of his team winning nationals twice.

"This is the greatest thing I've ever been involved with," he said. "I never thought I would be in a college competition of any kind and win it."

Nimz, graduating with a degree in justice studies, has been the FHSU Aikido president for the past two years.

"Aikido is a Japanese martial art," she said. "It focuses purely on self-defense and using the attackers momentum against them. Aikido strives to protect yourself effectively but not harm the attacker."

She began her involvement three years ago.

"I didn't intend on doing anything like this," Nimz said. "I planned on just focusing on my studies, but I've really enjoyed being part of the club."

She will continue practicing as a non-student member following graduation.

"I'll miss some of the interactions with the other officers," Nimz said. "We just elected new officers, which will be good because everyone brings a different style of leadership. They're hoping to have more events and get more involved on campus."

Simington, an elementary education major, is a non-traditional virtual student in Leawood who drove in for the ceremony.

"I had worked as a prison guard for several years," he said, "and through the course of that, I realized I wanted to do something more important and maybe make more of a difference."

His transition to elementary education began during his time working at the Leavenworth Detention Center.

"I was working with a young man," Simington said. "He kept getting in trouble and refused to complete the required program to get his GED. I told him, 'I don't know why you won't do this program. You're really smart.' I never thought much of it until he approached me a couple years later and thanked me. He said he got his GED and had the courage to do it because no one had ever told him he was smart enough. I thought, 'Maybe if someone had told him he was smart in third or fourth grade, he wouldn't have ended up the way he did.' I knew that's what I want to do for the rest of my life."

Approximately 4,000 students graduated, and two ceremonies were held. Those receiving graduate degrees walked Friday, while bachelor's degree recipients walked Saturday.

"It's just now starting to feel real," Ishikuro said. "I feel like I'm going to wake up and realize this is all a dream and I hadn't really finished. Pinch me, am I really awake? I'm very excited to see the possibilities."