Student commencement speaker: Grads have mission to improve world

May 3 2008

Four short years after struggling to get a high school diploma, Brandon Skates has graduated from Indiana State University and has been accepted into law school.

Describing how he overcame adversity and thanking Indiana State for giving him the opportunity to grow as a person, the Greencastle native told fellow graduates Saturday (May 3) they have a mission to improve the world.

“As a high school senior … I nearly missed graduating with my classmates,” Skates, the university’s student commencement speaker, said. He quipped that his high school grades and class rank were “a couple of facts I’ll be sure to leave off my resume.”

After spending his first year following high school at another university, the day he was accepted to Indiana State “was one of the happiest days of my life,” he said. “I was the kind of person who, because of my history, because of my personal struggles, had grown accustomed to rejection.”

The child of divorced parents, Skates’ father was rarely around as he grew up. In high school he was “so afraid of not making the basketball team that I never had the courage to try out. I let issues like these define who I was for such a long time.” he said.

But he’s a different person now, in part because Indiana State wanted him, Skates said.

“When I joined ISU, I decided the time for feeling sorry for myself was over,” he said. “I chose to dedicate my life to making the lives of children in positions like mine better. After today, with the degree I earned here, I will have the ability to do just that; but, most importantly, I will be the person I want to be.”

Skates is among nearly 1,500 students who completed degrees from Indiana State this spring. He holds a bachelor’s degree in social work. This fall, he will attend the Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis and hopes to eventually combine a law degree with a master’s in social work. Indiana State has a tradition of producing college graduates who have overcome adversity.

“We represent a resiliency and capability far greater than we are aware,” Skates said. “As the sons and daughters of America’s working class, most of us worked while we financed at least a part of our education.”

The most important of several lessons he learned while at Indiana State is “that life is about more than just me,” Skates said. “I have learned the value of giving back to those who have helped me.”

Life is not only about what you are given, but what you are willing to take, he told fellow members of the class of 2008.

“Many of us are hoping to see the world change. We want a world without war, poverty, or prejudice; and it can be obtained. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that ‘change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.’ We should not be afraid because we are the children of the struggle,” Skates said.

Indiana State President Lloyd W. Benjamin III told graduates they are privileged because of their education and because of the love and understanding of family members and friends.

“Because of that privilege, you will be called upon to give more generously of yourselves than those who are less advantaged,” Benjamin said. “There is a world full of those who may never know - without your help - what it means to be so advantaged. The opportunities to give, to serve, and to learn have no limit.”

During Indiana State’s 137th spring commencement, two honorary doctoral degrees were presented. An honorary doctor of laws was awarded to Paul C. Lo, a Taiwan banker and financier who completed a master of business administration degree from ISU in 1970. An honorary doctor of humane letters was awarded to John R. Wooden, the legendary college basketball coach who led the Indiana State men’s team from 1946-48.

Also during commencement, the Lloyd W. Benjamin III Medal for International Service was presented to James T. Morris, president of Pacers Sports and Entertainment. A former executive director of the United Nations World Food Program, Morris was recognized for his efforts to combat world hunger.

Photo: Brandon Skates, who completed a bachelor’s degree in social work at Indiana State University, delivered the commencement address at ISU on Saturday (May 3). Skates was selected as student commencement speaker from among 10 applicants. ISU/Kara Berchem

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or

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Story Highlights

After completing a bachelor's degree in social work at Indiana State, Brandon Skates has been accepted into law school. Describing how he overcame adversity and thanking ISU for giving him the opportunity to grow as a person, the Greencastle native told fellow graduates at spring commencement they have a mission to improve the world.

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