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WSU Spokane first to honor grads

After a bike ride Melissa Jensen, center, visits with friends Krista Kautzmann, left, and Nicole Anderson at the Boots Bakery & Lounge on Thursday. (Colin Mulvany)
After a bike ride Melissa Jensen, center, visits with friends Krista Kautzmann, left, and Nicole Anderson at the Boots Bakery & Lounge on Thursday. (Colin Mulvany)

East Side universities’ ceremonies start today

Washington State University Spokane chose five graduates to feature at its commencement today, all of whom demonstrate how life experiences can influence career paths.

Melissa Jensen, for example, has stuttered since age 5.

Today she’ll receive a Master of Science in communication disorders, and she’s already landed a job at a small clinic in Bellevue.

She was helped by a speech pathologist in high school, she said.

“I have my good days and bad days,” Jensen, 23, said of her stutter now. “Learning to manage it is what has really helped. I think that a lot of stuttering has a lot to do with your internal feelings. And it’s hard because we have to talk to communicate, and if we are afraid to talk we can’t communicate. Once you have a handle on your fluency, it will help you in any situation.”

WSU Spokane’s commencement kicks off the area’s university graduation season with about 430 graduates and undergraduates walking today. New Chancellor and former state Sen. Lisa Brown will address the campus’s 24th graduating class.

A record number of students – 2,655 – will graduate Saturday during WSU’s ceremonies in Pullman. One speaker will be featured at each of the three commencements: David Ensor, journalist and director of Voice of America; Roger Myers, executive director of electric propulsion and integrated systems for Aerojet; and Sam Reed, former Washington secretary of state.

Gonzaga, Whitworth and Eastern Washington universities’ commencements will follow in the weeks to come.

WSU Spokane’s class of 2013 includes 14 doctoral candidates, 97 professional candidates in pharmacy, 105 master’s degree candidates and 213 bachelor’s degree candidates.

The WSU College of Nursing baccalaureates total 146 students.

One, Devan Paxton, arrived at the Riverpoint campus two years ago after spending two years in Pullman.

“That’s where I really started to realize the impact I was making in people’s lives and the meaning of what I was doing,” said Paxton, 22.

Growing up in Seattle, Paxton always planned on being a doctor. That changed in high school, however, when she took care of an autistic boy. Her nomination to be featured at graduation noted that “she decided to pursue nursing instead because she realized nurses often have a more important role than doctors in their patients’ lives.”

Paxton hopes to end up back in her hometown working in pediatrics.

Two other graduates being highlighted at WSU Spokane’s ceremony traveled to the U.S. for their degrees.

Mulatu Yirba, who’s earning a Bachelor of Science in nursing, grew up in rural Ethiopia. People there often contracted easily preventable diseases, and many died.

“The darkest time in his life came when his mother, younger brother and another relative fell critically ill at the same time,” his nomination reads. That experience motivated him to pursue a career in public health.

Dana Dweik, who had already earned a degree in pharmacy from the University of Jordan and worked for an Israeli pharmaceutical company in Jerusalem, wanted more schooling and an adventure. She received a Fulbright scholarship that allowed her to attend WSU Spokane.

The final graduate to be featured is Daniel Zamora-Morales, who will receive a Bachelor of Arts in speech and hearing sciences. Zamora-Morales is the first in his family to go to college, according to his nomination. He plans to go to graduate school and help teenagers who have language impairments.