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WESTVILLE — Priscilla Tapia would agree with Purdue University Northwest Chancellor Thomas L. Keon's assertion that “graduation is not a celebration exclusively for those receiving their diplomas.”

A PNW health studies degree candidate, Tapia believes she had an angel with her Friday at the university’s fall commencement exercises.

Atop Tapia’s mortarboard was this message: “All for U, my Angel.”

That angel is her father, who died Dec. 12, 2004. “He was my hero,” Tapia, 21, said. “He was always telling me to work hard and go to college.”

The Hammond woman added, “This is a special day. My father is looking down today from heaven.”

Tapia was among 804 degree candidates being honored at three commencement exercises, including one on Friday at the Westville campus and two more Saturday at its Hammond campus.

Chris Rhodes, 22, a liberal studies major from Munster, also cited family support.

“Graduation today means everything,” said Rhodes, who will continue his studies in counseling at PNW. “My parents really emphasized education. They both had college degrees from Purdue.”

Linda Esquivel, 26, of Portage, was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Atop her mortarboard, she drew: “The best things come to those who don’t give up.”

“It was definitely tough,” said Esquivel, a married graduate. “There were plenty of times when I cried and wanted to give up. But my friends and family encouraged me not to give up.”

PNW graduates included 131 master’s degree recipients and 673 students earning baccalaureate degrees from the two campuses.

The commencements mark the first awarding of applied doctoral degrees from PNW’s College of Nursing.

Not all the graduates were in their early 20s. Richard Delgado, 55, of Hobart, had studied business management.

“This feels great, a great accomplishment,” said Delgado, who had entered the workforce after graduating from high school in the 1980s.

The father of a college graduate, Delgado eventually decided to return to school. “This time,” he said, “I wanted to do it right. It’s been a journey.”

Stephen R. Turner, guest speaker at the three commencement ceremonies, knows about journeys. The PNW vice chancellor of finance and administration even brought a canoe paddle as a prop.

“Envision your next journey as a canoe trip on a river you’ve never seen,” Turner said. “You can choose your river, but you can’t possibly know exactly what you will find on it.”

As with canoeing, Turner continued, graduates can choose to go with the flow or decide which course to take. The holder of several academic degrees encouraged graduates, when facing challenges, to trust their instincts and keep paddling.

“I’ve worked in three different public service sectors, held eight very different positions and earned four degrees each in a different discipline. Remember, however, this was not the journey I had planned,” Turner said. “Don’t be satisfied with a float trip. Certainly do not sit on the bank and let the current flow past you.”

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