Wright State University President David R. Hopkins urged graduates to “use your life to do good and inspire others” during the university’s 81st commencement ceremony May 2.
Inside a packed Wright State Nutter Center, Hopkins told the university’s 2,100 graduates to “chase your dreams and don’t let anything hold you back from living your life.”
He shared the inspiring story of Lauren Hill, the basketball player from Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati who recently died of a rare form of brain cancer.
“At the very young age of 19, Lauren’s perspective on what really matters in life became quite clear,” Hopkins said.
“However long or short your life may be, make it a life that matters,” he said. “The world needs caring, compassionate individuals like you to make a difference.”
Hopkins said it is inspiring to watch students grow and blossom during their time at Wright State.
“I have seen you rise,” he said. “Now is your time. Go out into the world and let everyone else see you shine.”
Of the 2,138 students who applied for degrees for commencement, 56 received associate degrees, 1,340 their bachelor’s degrees, 706 master’s and 44 doctoral degrees.
The class includes 1,784 graduates from 64 Ohio counties, including 1,470 from the 16 counties anchored by Wright State’s Dayton and Lake campuses. Graduates hail from 17 total states.
A majority of graduates, 1127, are women. Graduating students range in age from 18 to 71.
The class includes 268 international students from 28 nations, with India boasting the largest number of foreign graduates with 162.
During commencement, Wright State awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters to John Janning, a prominent Dayton engineer and inventor.
He encouraged graduates to think big and follow their dreams. “Life is too short to play it small,” he said.
Janning holds more than 70 U.S. patents and 250 worldwide patents. He is best known for perfecting the LCD screen and for inventing thermal printing, which was first used in fax machines, and a Christmas tree light string that stays lit even if an individual bulb goes out. His work on LCD technology can be found in various devices like wristwatches and calculators, medical equipment, TV screens, portable computers and other electronic displays.
He spent much of his career working for the University of Dayton Research Institute and NCR Corporation and in 1989 founded JU, Inc., a research and scientific consulting firm.
He has been inducted into the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame and Dayton’s Walk of Fame. He received the Joe Desch Innovention Award from the Engineers Club of Dayton in 2008 in recognition of demonstrated excellence in innovative problem solving and invention of practical applied solutions.
Meet three notable graduates
Commencement is primarily for the graduating students. Meet three who shined during their time at Wright State:
A passion for student advocacy
Dan Darkow has a passion for advocating for students and helping them succeed.
As a student at Wright State, he works as a resident assistant, serves as the director of disability affairs in Student Government and has been a member of the Dean’s Student Advisory Board in the Raj Soin College of Business.
Darkow, who majored in management information systems and minored in computer information technology, has been especially influenced by his three years as a resident assistant. It helped him understand the challenges students face and how he can help them.
“We have a chance to help them grow as a person and professionally,” he said.
Through Student Government, he has advocated for all students and students with disabilities. He has also been involved with the Office of Disability Services.
He spoke about Wright State’s services for students with disabilities at a national conference called Disabled and Proud in Syracuse and gave a presentation on creating an inclusive environment to representatives of Miami University’s residence life program during a visit to Wright State.
Darkow will attend graduate school at Miami University, studying in the student affairs in higher education program.
His passion for student advocacy was sparked by Jean Denney, assistant director of physical support in the Office of Disability Services, who told him: “You are the type of person I want leading the next generation of students with disabilities.”
“That stuck with me this entire time and really made me think about what I want to do in my life and what I have to offer other students,” he said. “It’s what pushed me to the student affairs route.”
He wants to combine his love and experience with technology with his interest in student affairs and work with students with disabilities at a university. His dream job is working in — and eventually managing — a high-caliber disability services program such as Wright State’s Office of Disability Services.
“Wright State is all about inclusion and not exclusion, and we will take people who might not have another place to go,” he said. “It’s what makes us awesome and an amazing university.”
As someone with a disability himself, Darkow says he can relate to other students with disabilities and can use his experiences to help and advocate for them.
“I just want to be that support system for students and someone they can come talk about their problems and issues and help them succeed,” he said, “whatever their dreams and goals are because that’s inevitably what we’re all here for.”
Making most of her opportunities
Katy Hitchcock, a materials science and engineering major, has made the most of the opportunities she’s had at Wright State.
She is a student ambassador for the College of Engineering and Computer Science; serves on the college’s Dean’s Student Advisory Board and on the Dean’s Leadership Institute; is president of the student organization Society of Women Engineers; and has worked as a recitation instructor for Introduction to Materials and as a teaching assistant.
She also took extra courses when she could because she wanted to learn as much as possible.
“I believe you should always do your best and make most of opportunities you’ve been given,” she said.
And she has worked three jobs at various times at the Air Force Research Lab at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
For the last two years, she has worked in the photonics branch in the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate assisting with research on the use of gallium nitride semiconductors in electronics.
Last summer, she worked in the bio soft materials lab researching the use of silk films in drug encapsulation.
She also works in the Human Effectiveness Directorate researching the use of boron carbon nanotube film to clean up oil spills. Hitchcock’s job is to test whether the film is toxic to the environment and humans.
She eventually wants to work for the Department of Defense and develop a nutrient supplement that military personnel could take while on mission. The technology would give soldiers the nutrients they need without being weighed down with food.
Hitchcock plans to pursue a Ph.D. at either Duke or Carnegie Mellon, both of which have given her full scholarships.
Her career goals also include teaching and conducting research.
“I want to be able influence other people and send them out to do better things for the world and to be better engineers and be strong engineers,” she said. “I especially want to influence girls to go into engineering.”
Hitchcock grew up in Springfield and went to Dayton Christian High School. Her mom graduated from Wright State with a social work degree, and her sister is majoring in biology and premed at the university.
“Wright State has been very good to us,” Hitchcock said.
Take a bow
If you attended recent theatre productions at Wright State, chances are you saw acting major Law Dunford on stage.
During his career at the university, he appeared in “Rent,” Charles Dickens’ “Barnaby Rudge,” “Wild Party,” “1913: The Great Dayton Flood,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “Les Miserables” as Javert.
Last fall, he played the lead, Troy Maxson, in “Fences,” August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama.
The experience was both fun and scary for Dunford.
“It taught me how to be confident, it taught me how to rest assure in trusting myself and to take ownership of the work that I do on and off stage,” he said.
Dunford wants to pursue similar roles in dramatic works dealing with race, social issues and classism.
“It wasn’t until I got here that I realized I wanted to do this for a purpose bigger than myself, touching people’s lives,” he said. “And that’s what theatre is all about. I believe that God called me to this, and I’m excited for the ride with Him.”
Dunford started singing when he was 3 and grew up performing in church. The Dayton native went to high school at Dominion Academy of Dayton.
When he came to Wright State, he decided to focus on acting, not musical theatre.
“I think I had a raw gift for it, but it needed to be tuned and trained,” he said of acting. “And that’s what I did while I was here. I focused in on really committing myself to the craft.”
He made the most of his time in the theatre program, learning different acting and dialogue techniques and how to be both confident and vulnerable.
“For me, to be in class working without a beautiful song, relying on costumes and makeup to hide behind, made me stop pretending, and it made me the truest version of myself so far. You have to really know yourself,” Dunford said. “And the only way to really know yourself is to be comfortable with who you are.”
Dunford received ArtsGala and Tom Hanks scholarships and helped start the student-run Ethnic Theatre Alliance.
He and his wife of nine years, Mia, have a 3-year-old daughter named Farrah.
After graduation, Dunford will spend nine months interning at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, understudying different roles, participating in the playhouse’s public school tour and working alongside Broadway and regional actors.
Eventually he wants to study acting in graduate school and perform in the theatre, film and on TV.