Meet the Class of 2019

Monday, May 13, 2019
View from the Commencement ceremony

No matter the disciplines, the destination, or the route they took to get here, close to 700 students will end this week as alumni of Rockhurst University following our annual commencement activities. Here are the stories of just a few — congratulations to every graduate!

Kori Hines, English

Kori Hines had already been through a lot before even coming to college.

In 2011, halfway through eighth grade, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, staring down long odds on survival. She would spend most of the next year in and out of the hospital as she underwent chemo and radiation therapy, then relapse, which required a cord blood stem cell transplant.

It’s difficult to imagine that kind of experience wouldn’t affect one’s life moving forward, and Hines said that’s certainly the case for her.

“When I was sick, it was always a matter of when I get better, I’m going to do everything,” she said. “I’m going to put my foot in every door, make the most of every opportunity.”

As a student, Hines has served as editor of The Sentinel, a keynote speaker at the 2018 Festival of Student Achievement, and other leadership opportunities.

Hines said she still wants to capitalize on opportunities, though her focus has changed. She entered Rockhurst seeking to become a nurse as a tribute to those who had helped her and her family during her illness but has since turned her attention to helping others in a different way.

After graduation, Hines will head to New York City to serve as an elementary-school teacher at the Harlem Village Academies, part of Master of Science for Teachers program through Pace University. Like switching her major, it’s a big move, but it’s also true to that earlier pledge to make the most of every opportunity.

“I came to Rockhurst feeling so grown up, like I was ready to take on the world,” she said “I had so much to learn still. I think I’ve surprised myself in a lot of ways.”

 

Claire Webster, Nonprofit Leadership Studies

Your existence is radical, someone once told Claire Webster.

From her identity, to her experiences, to her leadership, that statement can be read any number of different ways and still make sense. But Webster said it’s something she’s thought about a lot lately. She’s been reminded a lot about her own time at Rockhurst as she passed the ceremonial gavel to the next president of Student Senate, and then later received the Hawk of the Year Award, at the Festival of Student Achievement.

“My mom was sobbing,” she said. ““She reminded me that she used to put my C-minuses on the fridge, that I was born in a trailer, that I’m a first-generation student. I should always have a sense of pride in knowing who I am and where I came from.”

That all sounds very serious, but it’s only half the story — Webster says she’s just as likely to be laughing as to be knee-deep in a conversation about the serious stuff, and those qualities have given her a pretty big social circle.

In the fall, Webster will start at the University of Michigan’s Master of Social Work program. She said experiences as a student, including an internship and later a community work study position at Operation Breakthrough, helped her realize she her experience and her personality are tools to make the world a better place.

“I want to be a bridge builder,” she said. “I think it’s about recognizing that we’re not alone on this planet, and we shouldn’t act like it.”

 

Andrew Burnside, Philosophy and French

How can one tell Andrew Burnside is a philosopher at heart? Bring up kids’ movies, and listen to him talk about how their themes mirror the dense work on the nature of reality of Jean Baudrillard.

“I watched Incredibles 2 with my family, and I was freaking out when Baudrillard got introduced,” he said, laughing. “To them, that was not the highlight of the movie.”

After finding philosophy in high school, Burnside consumed books and ideas on his own. By talking to friends from Quebec, he learned how to speak French.

The two collided during his time at Rockhurst, where he formally studied French for the first time and began to read 20th Century French philosophers like Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus.

Reading the original French led to new intricacies in works of those and other philosophers, in addition to an understanding of the underlying circumstances of their writing.

“By studying French you get to learn whole lot of other things about culture, and how people see the world, and how language can be a part of that,” he said.

As a student, Burnside said highlights include a dean’s fellowship to study the rivalry between Sartre and Camus with Rob Vigliotti, Ph.D., associate professor of philosophy and serving as a French tutor in the Aylward Dunn Learning Center. And it’s an interest he plans to continue in the fall, when Burnside will attend Vanderbilt University to pursue a doctorate degree in philosophy.

 

Veronica Clay, English

Words were always part of Veronica Clay’s life, she said.

The English major began to talk at 9 months, delivered her first spoken word in seventh grade, and published her first collection of poetry at 17.

On the cusp of earning an undergraduate degree at age 20, Clay said she has always been achievement-oriented.

After transferring from Maple Woods Community College to Rockhurst, Clay said she found a community of faculty, staff, and students who helped push her in ways she didn’t expect. Through leadership roles, such as president of Alpha Sigma Nu Jesuit honor society and Sigma Tau Delta English honor society, she learned to how be assertive when needed. With support from faculty, she submitted her poetry to national publications.

“There were just more resources, and I started reaching for more,” she said. “Not in a greedy way, but to find out what can I do, how far can I push myself?”

So she took chances on opportunities she might have passed on before — giving a Ted Talk in Kansas City about her biracial identity or talking about her relationship with the police on Kansas City’s NPR affiliate, to name two recent examples. All of that, she said, was like the extra fuel (or, as she puts it, Mario’s mushroom) to help her grow both as a person and as a writer.

“In learning to be bold here, I’ve learned to have that same boldness or bravery in my writing, because that’s the only kind of writing that will ever be powerful or potent,” she said.

 

Alexis “Bear” Medina, Sports Management and Spanish

In high school, Alexis Medina was practical to the point of being unsure that college was his best choice.

It would be a big investment compared to the immediate payoff of entering the workforce right away. When he did decide to give college a try, he decided to stay close to home. Four years later, Medina said his mindset has changed a little.

“All of these classes I was taking helped me think differently and through different lenses,” he said. “And I think that that really taught me not to rule something out before thinking about it.”

As a student, Medina took part in retreats and opportunities like the Lumberjack Service Trip to rural Michigan and the Supernatural retreat. For the last two years, he’s been a youth coach in the Soccer for Success program at Kansas City’s Mattie Rhodes Center. After graduation, he’s heading to Denver to be a teaching assistant at Arrupe Jesuit High School as part of the Alumni Service Corps, working with a population that, like the one he was raised in Kansas City’s northeast, is predominantly Hispanic. For Medina, the opportunity is not only one to serve a familiar community or to try out teaching, but also, like coaching sports, is an opportunity to set an example.

“Whatever their dreams are, they can happen,” he said. “Sports are the attention getter to help guide young people to healthy lifestyles, and to develop positive life skills.”

 

Elhonei Alemu, MOT

Soon-to-be OT Elhonei Alemu found her passion, eventually. But it took some work.

After earning her undergraduate degree on a pre-med track, Alemu moved back to the Kansas City area to be with her family and began work as a clinical lab scientist. On the side, she asked practitioners of all stripes to shadow them, looking for a good fit. She found one in a local pediatric unit after observing a group of occupational therapists working with a young patient who had just been diagnosed with autism. Alemu said she watched as this family processed a massive moment, and the OTs were right alongside them, comforting and offering some therapeutic options to readjust to everyday life.

“OTs look at the person as a whole, so we go in asking them things like, ‘What are your hobbies?’ which is not normally what you expect when you go into a medical facility,” she said.

At Rockhurst, Alemu said her choice to follow that path has only been underscored by her experiences in the classroom and at clinical assignments. Even the times when she’s been challenged most, such as when she traveled to St. Lucia to work in a school and found herself working without an OT partner in a classroom with a teaching assistant (an experience she said she might not have made it through without the help of faculty), never made her second guess her choice.

Same goes for the other aspects of her education — a research project working with offenders at the Chillicothe Correctional Center, for one, or the close-knit OT cohort who supported each other during the late-night study sessions, when exhaustion can give way to the giggles. Maybe it’s having come to the U.S. via a lottery visa, or maybe it’s personality — either way, Alemu said, to keep moving forward feels like a gift.

“I think in life in general, I tend to go for the challenge,” she said. “What more is there that can push me to the next level?”