December Commencement student speaker talks graduation, future plans

December graduation is right around the corner. For Sarah Israel, this means more than just her graduation ceremony; it also means preparing a commencement speech.

Israel is one of 250 Engaged Learning students and one of 12 Engaged Learning students graduating in December. She has been chosen among the December graduates to give the faculty address this year.

“I was pretty excited. It’s a validation of all the work that has gone into my organization,” said Israel when she heard the news.

Israel started her Engaged Learning project, Bridge the Gap Chamber Players, in the fall of 2014. The independent nonprofit organization is an after-school orchestra program that targets fourth grade to middle school students at the Paul L. Dunbar Learning Center in the Dallas Independent School District. Bridge the Gap Chamber Players has partnered with The Boys and Girls Club of Dallas to run South Dallas Strings, a specific program within the organization.

Israel, a human rights major and a Meadows interdisciplinary major in nonprofit organizational studies, works part-time at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra as a special event manager and has a full-time position waiting for her at the DSO when she graduates.

“She’s like a beautiful flower. She’s got a job at the Dallas Orchestra after graduation because of her role with music in the community and to have played a little role in that makes us really happy,” said Executive Director of Engaged Learning, Susan Kress.

Israel is not nervous about speaking at graduation because she is used to speaking at donor events.

“I am mostly talking about the dedication of the faculty. I have had some really outstanding professors and mentors at SMU that have impacted my time at school and the obtainment of a job immensely,” Israel said.

Melissa Murray, Israel’s mentor and associate director of music recruitment, said that being chosen to speak means the student is very accomplished and stands out.

They believe that you have something to say; the projects you’re involved in have significant meaning and you’re articulate,” said Murray.

SMU’s registrar forms a committee to review the projects of Engaged Learning December graduates when picking the speaker. Projects can range from topics in hard science to art to engineering. Kress then picks the final speaker from the committees’ recommendations.

“I really look for the student who has the motivation to give the speech,” said Kress, with an enthusiastic fist pump.

There are 250 students involved in the Engaged Learning initiative across campus. A hundred Engaged Learning fellows will graduate in May. The initiative gives students the opportunity to turn their passion into action by using their skills in real-world situations. Other projects include North Korean issues and research into health and disease.

Along with Engaged Learning fellows’ projects, nine Big Ideas projects that focus on teamwork in a business setting. Five to six students will also become involved with the Clinton Foundation to help stop global issues, such as poverty.

When a student graduates as an Engaged Learning fellow their transcript denotes them as a member of “SMU’s most prestigious student engaged program.”

The Commencement ceremony will be on Saturday, Dec. 19 in Moody Coliseum at 10 a.m.

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