Roosevelt student talks history of firsts at RU
By Kevinisha Walker
A Roosevelt University undergraduate student will make history this year, as she will be the first student ever to deliver the commencement address.
After writing an essay about her love for Roosevelt, special education major Danielle Smith was selected out of 10 other nominees.
“I think the reason I was selected was because of how compelling my story of RU was,” Smith said in an email. “I love Roosevelt so much and have had such wonderful experiences here that it showed in my essay.”
This is not Smith’s first time making history at the university, however.
She was part of the first women’s tennis team and athletic program in the history of the university.
“It feels really nice,” Smith said about her history of firsts at Roosevelt.
The Mokena native also said she can’t believe that she’s the first student in history to give the speech.
Typically, universities choose politicians, noted speakers or alumni to give commencement speeches, but this semester, the university selected the soon-to-be alumna instead.
University President Charles Middleton said the university wanted to highlight a student who embodies the social justice mission.
“We wanted to recognize and celebrate an outstanding student who best reflects the university’s mission, which is to turn out graduates who are not only academic achievers but who also show promise as socially conscious citizens and community leaders,” Middleton said in a press release.
Smith’s praised essay talks about her upbringing in a southwest suburb, which she describes as sheltered.
“By sheltered, I mean that I grew up in an area where everyone was pretty much the same,” Smith said.
Attending Roosevelt changed that sheltered feeling for Smith.
“My eyes were opened to the beauty and diversity that there is in this world and how I was missing that from my life,” she said.
She admitted that her epiphany is not about putting her community down, as she loves where she grew up.
But she said she loves that Roosevelt revealed a world with different types of people.
In her commencement speech, she plans to talk about how the university shaped her worldview and what she wants to do with her life.
“I also thank the people who have helped me become the person I am today,” Smith said.
She said she’s a little nervous about delivering the speech but thinks that the adrenaline rush will kick in once she hits the stage.
After graduation, Smith plans to work as a special education teacher in Chicago Public Schools.
She’s also two classes away from obtaining her bilingual certification.
“Eventually, I am going to go for my master’s in Spanish, reading or both,” Smith said.
On her recent fame, Smith said she feels loved.
“Everyone has literally been so supportive,” she said. “I really don’t feel like I am anything out of the ordinary, but for this week, people have made me feel famous, which is weird.”
Before attending the university, Smith said she had never heard of social justice, but now, she lives her life by that mission.
“I hope that faculty and students realize how wonderful of a school they [work for] and attend,” she said. “And because of their commitment to the school and social justice, they have the power to shape our future.”
The commencement ceremony is Dec. 13 at 11 a.m. in the Auditorium Theatre.