Chadron State College
Chadron State College

Commencement speakers: Learn from history, be open to twists

May 7, 2018

Chadron State College bachelor's degree recipients receive their degrees during the undergraduate commencement ceremony at the Chicoine Center on Saturday, May 5, 2018. (Photo by Dewayne Gimeson/Chadron State College)
Chadron State College bachelor's degree recipients receive their degrees during the undergraduate commencement ceremony at the Chicoine Center on Saturday, May 5, 2018. (Photo by Dewayne Gimeson/Chadron State College)

CHADRON – Chadron State College graduates received advice from one current and one former faculty member Saturday during commencement. Education Professor Dr. Patti Blundell spoke at the graduate ceremony in Memorial Hall and Dr. Lois Veath Podobnik, former Vice President of Academic Affairs and science professor, spoke at the undergraduate ceremony in the Chicoine Center.

Two Army ROTC cadets were commissioned as second lieutenants during the undergraduate exercises. They are Jerrick Bowers of Gering, who will be assigned to the Medical Services Corps of the Nebraska National Guard, and Justyn Curtis of Richmond, Indiana, who will be a Field Artillery Officer in the Army.

Ashtyn Nelson of Chadron, delivered the undergraduate opening moment of reflection. Stephanie Gardner, also of Chadron, delivered the closing moment of reflection in the program that recognized 247 candidates for bachelor’s degrees.

At graduate commencement, 122 students were honored. Mattie Churchill of Alliance, Nebraska, delivered the opening moment of reflection. Megan O'Leary of Omaha delivered the closing moment of reflection.

In her graduate commencement speech, Blundell reviewed the history of plains homesteaders like her grandparents who were able to earn land by moving into the wide open west and improving the land with buildings and crops.

“Why do the experiences of the homesteaders matter to us today? Their experiences molded the values that are part of this region. Those core values can be traced though the history and development of CSC. We are designated a ‘Frontier College,’ meaning Far and Remote. If you are a child of the Plains, you are comfortable with 360 degree skies and sparsely populated areas,” Blundell said.

CSC has grown and thrived because it reflects the frontier values that have shaped the region and are still important today, according to Blundell.

“I believe the frontier, pioneer values are also reflected in you,” Blundell told the graduates.

She enumerated a list of values including adventure, opportunity, sacrifice, hard work, adaptability and perseverance.

“Even today, this region is not an easy place to be successful. It requires tenacity and the ability to keep on going. You have demonstrated your perseverance in reaching an important goal,” Blundell said. “I believe you are well prepared with knowledge, skills and values of an institution and a region, equipping you to flourish in your next frontier.”

Dr. Lois Veath Podobnik based the theme of her address, in part, on the lyrics of the Rascal Flatts’ song, “The Broken Road.”

“Looking back on my life like some cosmic novel, I am amazed, proud, a little embarrassed, occasionally bewildered, but most of all joyful and grateful for all that has happened,” Podobnik said.

Podobnik recalled two events in sixth grade – being enthralled with the satellite Sputnik and the school counselor telling her that she could not pursue an engineering degree in spite of her high math and science scores.

After she graduated with her first degree in chemistry, she moved with her late husband, David Veath, to San Diego for David so he could attend law school in 1969. There, through a series of unusual events, Podobnik secured what turned out to be a ground-breaking job with Dr. John O’Brien at the University of California San Diego Medical School in the Department of Neurosciences researching the causes of syndromes in central nervous systems of children. The team she worked on discovered a missing enzyme in the tissues of those with certain syndromes.

“If you had told me then that you could buy a $99 kit from to analyze your genes 50 years later, I would have been astounded. And I also probably would have asked what  dotcom meant,” Podobnik said,

In 1978, the couple decided to leave San Diego headed to a town in the center of the country, Broken Bow, Nebraska.

Contacts there led to Chadron and a medical absence by one of the CSC science professors created an opening for an adjunct position in chemistry, and then physics. 

The energetic new member of the faculty said she regularly engaged her colleagues in lively debates about the importance of active, student-centered teaching instead of lectures.

“I had finally found what I had always been meant to do – teach,” she said. “It was a privilege to nurture young lives, share pioneering techniques at the National Science Teachers Conventions and make the science of the universe accessible to students through the magic of planetarium shows.”

Podobnik concluded her remarks by reminding students to call on their CSC support system as they move forward.

“You’ve been mentored by some of the world’s best professors sitting right here. Men and women who will never forget you, will look forward to hearing from you on your travels, and will always be available to give you advice,”Veath said.

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