Over 2,000 students earn degrees, praise at Wright State Fall Commencement

Photo of Wright State University's commencement.

Applications were received for for more than 2,000 degrees at the 2012 Fall Commencement.

Wright State University President David R. Hopkins praised students, parents, faculty members and other supporters Saturday, Dec. 15 at the university’s Fall Commencement.

Noting that this commencement is the first that includes students who took some of their classes under the new semester system, Hopkins called it a “defining moment in their lives and for the university.”

“And when we combine the number of graduates from Spring Commencement with those of you who are here today, the Class of 2012 becomes the largest graduating class that Wright State has ever seen,” said Hopkins.

Quoting passages from Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! and Eleanor Roosevelt, Hopkins told the students who tightly packed the Wright State University Nutter Center floor, “My advice to you today is: Don’t dream an ordinary life. Dream a life that is extraordinary, a life that will enrich the lives of others. A life that will continue the work you began at Wright State University where you have helped us fulfill our mission of changing lives and changing communities.”

Applications were received for 2,040 degrees, including 1,272 bachelor’s degrees, 663 master’s degrees, 37 doctorates of philosophy and 43 associate degrees.

Included in the class are 98 international students from 22 nations. The class includes 41 Hispanic students, 50 Asian American students and 200 African American students. This graduating class has 1,131 women and 909 men. The youngest graduate is 19 and the oldest is 67.

Photo of Samantha Laux

Samantha Laux and her service dog Dylan, who accepted her posthumous degree at Fall Commencement.

One furry friend walked at Fall Commencement. A service dog named Dylan accepted a posthumous degree on behalf of former student Samatha Laux, who died last June.

Laux and her family provided the support to build Wright State’s Wingerd service dog park, believed to be the only college park built specifically for service dogs.

“Samantha is a model of the student with a disability who is strong and directed,” said Jeffrey Vernooy, director of Wright State’s Office of Disability Services. “Working with Samantha to support her on this campus helped us to come to a new level of service for students.”

The following are three inspiring graduation stories from Fall Commencement.

A promise made, a promise kept

Photo of graduating student Brian Holt.

Brian Holt is following through on a promise that he would be the first in his family to graduate from college.

In 1990, Brian Holt told his grandfather lying on his deathbed that he would fulfill the dream that his 73-year-old hero never could—graduate from college.

Riddled with cancer, the World War II veteran asked his grandson to promise to do something no one in his family had done before—earn a college degree.

Holt made that promise, and now, over two decades later, he’s following through.

“My original goal was to finish at my first college, and I even went back to school in ’93 and met my wife there,” explained Holt. “But we ended up leaving school and moving back to Dayton to find work and start a family.”

Holt and his wife worked for many years in childcare. But in 2007, both of them lost their jobs. Their misfortune led them to make a life-changing pact.

Holt promised to be the sole provider for the family while his wife went back to school fulltime to become a nurse. And she promised to do the same for him once she was done. His wife lived up to her commitment, enabling Holt to fulfill his promise.

Holt will walk at commencement having earned a bachelor’s in sports science, a degree he hopes to put to work at a wellness or rehabilitation facility in the Miami Valley.

Holt says delivering on his promises has been as rewarding as they have been powerful, setting a new standard of education in his family that began with him, just as his grandfather wanted.

“Getting my degree has just been huge for us because now everybody’s getting degrees” said Holt. “My daughter is just starting her freshman year in college, my son is graduating from high school early to go to college and my wife is also going back to get her R.N. It’s amazing.”

Community service: first a calling, now a career

Photo of graduating student Linda Thomas.

Linda Thomas left a job in sales to dedicate herself to a career that better serves her community.

Linda Thomas is always running.  A community service­–driven dynamo, Thomas juggles an itinerary of civil service activities that could make the most dedicated social worker look self-centered.

“I’m kind of an all-or-nothing person,” said Thomas. “I have a lot of passions and I feel like we’re put on this earth to help others.”

In addition to being a full-time student poised to earn a degree that will effectively change her career from sales to occupational therapy in a mental health field, the Wilmington, Ohio, native is currently dedicating time to the following activities:


  • Volunteering at The Castle, a mental health facility in Centerville
  • Logging occupational therapy observation hours at Summit Behavioral Healthcare in Cincinnati
  • Working with students with learning or psychological disabilities as an intern at Wilmington College
  • Volunteering weekly at the Humane Society caring, cleaning and playing with the animals
  • Tutoring conversational English to international students at Wright State
  • Serving on Wright State University President David R. Hopkins’ Student Ambassadors Board
  • Serving as a student ambassador/personal assistant to a visually impaired woman at the Ohio Rehabilitation Association statewide conference

“I just run from thing to thing to thing, and my family is super supportive,” said Thomas. “They’re great about it. It sets a great example for them.”

Thomas first fell in love with community service when she was a member of the Key Club in high school and later Circle K in college. She transferred her efforts to the Girl Scouts and marching band when she became a mom. Now, practically an empty-nester with two kids in college and another a freshman in high school, she’s focused on making a difference in the mental health community.

“My dad had a stroke in 2005, and I remember vividly how helpful the physical therapists and occupational therapists were for him,” said Thomas. “When it was time for me to change careers, I remembered that, found the rehabilitation services program at Wright State and never looked back.”

Sense of site: tumor survivor focuses on photography

Photo of Samantha Hoefler

After three brain surgeries, Samantha Hoefler is graduating with a degree in photography.

The headaches started during the 2008 Fall Quarter. Samantha Hoefler thought nothing of them, but they persisted. She was lethargic too, and she started experiencing blurry and bright vision in her right eye. A trip to the ophthalmologist and an MRI later and Hoefler learned she had a brain tumor.

“It was very scary,” said Hoefler. “Three days after the MRI, I had surgery. They told me if I hadn’t gone to get it checked out, I was a week or two from going completely blind in my right eye.”

Surgeons removed a portion of a benign pituitary tumor that was impinging on her optic nerve. They couldn’t get it all out, but Hoefler recovered and went back to school in the spring of 2009.

But then the headaches started again. Another MRI revealed the tumor had grown back at a rapid pace. Hoefler went to Pittsburgh to have another surgery, but this time with the doc that pioneered the type of brain surgery she needed. He got most of it out, and she went back to school, returning in the fall of 2009.

The headaches returned, this time on her left side instead of her right. The tumor was hemorrhaging.

“When the doctor saw my MRI results, he said we had to be in Pittsburgh by the next morning for surgery,” said Hoefler. “I could die.”

She and her family drove through the night, rushing back to Pittsburgh.

Another surgery followed, and this time a complementary procedure was prescribed: gamma knife laser surgery to eradicate the remaining tumor tissue.

That was April 2010. Hoefler had lost all of 2009 because of the tumor. But when she finally returned to Wright State for good, she found an academic direction and clarity that wasn’t there before.

“Photography was always a hobby for me. I never really considered it for college, but after going through everything it just kind of makes you realize that life is short and you should do what you’re passionate about,” said Hoefler. “It allows me to put myself out there and speak through photographs. It’s kind of like a therapy.”

Saturday, Hoefler will receive her B.F.A. in photography, feeling more healthy and whole than she has in a long time.

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