Cameron University graduating class of 2010 filled with inspirational stories

Cameron University will honor the class of 2010 during its annual Commencement ceremony at 7:30 p.m., Friday, May 7, at Cameron Stadium in Lawton, with guest speaker Justice Yvonne Kauger of the Oklahoma Supreme Court. A total of 1,020 Cameron students are eligible to receive diplomas signifying degree completion. For many, commencement represents more than earning a degree.  It serves as a personal milestone for achievement and overcoming adversity. Included below are stories of family celebration, determination and personal accomplishment of a few graduates from the class of 2010.

Tony Anders

Imagine being told not once, but twice, that you weren't college material. Imagine what that would do to your dream of being a football coach and working with kids. While that pronouncement could strip most people of their self-esteem, it didn't dissuade Tony Anders. True, he struggled academically; yet as coach of the Oklahoma Rebels, a semi-pro football team, he led them to undefeated seasons and the Central Football League championship. He got involved with pee-wee leagues and coached teams to city championships. More importantly, he stressed the value of good grades and staying out of trouble to his players. He became more than a coach. He became a mentor. 

"You're not just a coach," Tony says. "Sometimes you have to be a father figure or a big brother. In my life, I never really had that. I always said if I ever got in a position where I got to do that for someone, that's what I would do, and I've been lucky to have that opportunity."

Tony's story begins in Vietnam, the country of his birth. He was brought to the U.S. as an infant and was adopted twice. His childhood was anything but ideal, as he struggled in school and at home. Told by a high school counselor that college was out of the question, he enlisted in the military. After a back injury resulted in a medical discharge, he sought the advice of a VA counselor and was once again told to forget about college.

Tony was working at a girl's boot camp in Florida when a conversation with one of the campers opened his eyes. "I care about kids, and at this camp, there were girls from age 12 to 17, kids in trouble or who came from abusive homes, with drug use in the family and so on. As a counselor, I was like a dad to these girls. One day, one of the girls wanted to talk to me. She put it pretty bluntly. She said, ‘Mr. Anders, why are you here? Why are you wasting your time being here? You have talent. You need to go to college, be a counselor, be a teacher, be a coach. You sit and listen. You're hard on us, and sometimes you make me mad, but I understand the discipline you're trying to establish within us so we can leave here and succeed in life.' She had tears in her eyes, and her words really hit home with me."

Working at another camp with young men, he found more inspiration. "Three days before graduation from boot camp, one kid who I was close with and had never had a problem with, started acting up. He wouldn't listen, he was being defiant, and he wouldn't talk to me. He finally talked to one of the drill instructors, who told me, ‘You know why that kid was acting up? Because that kid doesn't want to leave. He said he looks up to you like a father. He's never had anybody care for him like you do.' That made me think about my childhood, and it made me realize I can provide something that I never had. That's why I love working with kids."

Tony enrolled at Cameron University in Fall 2004 and struggled early on. "I suffered with depression, and there were times I did quit school, but I always thought, ‘You've gotta get back - you're so close.'"

He found encouragement from Cameron's Office of Student Support Services, where, working with the professional staff, Tony's underlying learning disability was identified as Irlen Syndrome, which interferes with his ability to read. "I always knew I had a learning disability," he says. "When you grow up with that, you feel ashamed, you feel not normal. But you can't lie down and listen to everyone say, ‘You can't do it.' You just have to get up and try."

Fortunately, simple interventions such as wearing tinted glasses and placing colored overlays on text printed on white paper enabled Tony to overcome the problems associated with the disability. His reading scores skyrocketed, and he was well on his way to his college degree.

Two years ago, Tony shared his story with legislators and Oklahoma college students at the State Capitol. That day, he earned a standing ovation. In the future, he hopes to share his story with other audiences as a motivational speaker and mentor.

"At the Student Support Services end-of-the-year celebration, one student came up to talk to me. He told me how much I motivated him. If I'm able to reach out to at least one person, that's what matters. There are people out there who struggle, in difficult situations that we don't know about. If I see a person who looks upset, I ask, ‘Are you okay?' Just knowing that someone, even a stranger, cares can make a difference in that person."

Coaching is still in his future, although he's considering heading back to Cameron in the fall to pursue a master's degree. And for anyone else who has been told they weren't college material, he has a special message. "It's up to you to do what you want to do as long as it's positive, something that you can benefit from. Do it. Everybody has a talent. Whatever that talent is, use that talent to help somebody else that might be struggling. When you do that, that person sees that you care, and that makes them want to work harder. 

Jacy Dobbins

For Jacy Dobbins of Comanche, attending Cameron was a natural decision. After all, her brother Justin Smith; her husband Nick; brother-in-law Chris; and his wife Jennifer all earned degrees from Cameron's Education Department. Nick, Chris and Jennifer all teach at Comanche, while Justin and his wife Angela teach in Duncan. When Jacy receives her diploma at commencement this year, she will celebrate her degree in elementary education with her brother, who will receive his Master of Science in Educational Leadership.

Jacy started out as a communication major, aspiring to anchor the 10 p.m. news. "Then I had a little boy, and I thought, ‘This schedule isn't very good for parenting.' I decided on elementary education and haven't looked back once," Jacy says. "After nine years and two children, I'm finally graduating."

The decision to change her major to elementary education came easily. "One of the main reasons I want to teach is because I had some great teachers in my past," Jacy explains. "I had two junior high teachers that I thought the world of - they taught me so much. Also, I love being around kids. I have a lot of fun with them. I can get down on their level pretty good and learn with them."

"You hear that cliché, ‘I want to impact kids' lives,'" she continues. "That's really it. I love to see children learning. During my student teaching in Duncan, it was so exciting to see that I taught a child something, to see that little light bulb come on and knew they understood."

Her experience in Cameron's Education Department was nothing short of motivating. "The personal relationships with the professors is a big thing - there was never a time I couldn't go to a professor's office. I have two little boys, and at times when my kids were sick, the faculty members were understanding about having to miss class because of a family issue.

"Cameron's education program is great," she continues. "I learned so much. The teachers are amazing - they know their stuff, and I respect their authority and opinion a lot. I respect what they have to say and what they taught me. So many teachers didn't make it just about an assignment. They would share stories about them teaching and what they went through, what I can expect when I start teaching. They made it really personal."

Jacy hopes to join the rest of the Dobbins clan at Comanche Public Schools. "We have a big family, and we have kids that are very close. We like to spend a lot of time together, and we decided we want to work together, too. We always say we're going to start Dobbins Public Schools!"

Kamaranda Jones

Kamaranda Jones doesn't know the meaning of the word ‘quit.' Fifteen years after she first enrolled at Cameron, she will earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice. Along the way, she faced the challenges that come with raising a family alone.

"I had some problems with my children," she says. "I had three kids to take care of, and as my son turned 14, he became very difficult. I was constantly having to deal with situations at home."

Refusing to be defeated by those fleeting circumstances, she was committed to continuing her education. "I consider myself a survivor. I have gone through so many things - a lot of times I didn't have any help. Through sheer will, I pushed myself. I don't know how I did it, but I did."

She credits the caring faculty and staff she encountered with helping her through her lowest days. "A lot of times, I would come to school crying, just stressed out. Ms. Susan Camp (Director of Cameron University -Duncan) kept me going. The people at the Duncan campus encouraged me a lot. I love Cameron, especially the Duncan campus. They're terrific people."

Kamaranda's perseverance was tied to a definite goal. "I wanted to better myself," she says. "I just wanted to change my situation and have a career where I could have benefits, save some money for my kids, and have something I could retire on."

Her career aspiration: working in child welfare. "I'm good with kids. I've had troubled kids, so I know what it takes, the ups and the downs of dealing with kids who don't want to listen. I've had a lot of experience in it. If I can help a child or even a family, that would be the best thing. Families should stay together. It's important for kids to be with their parents and for parents to be with their kids. I want to find a way to help them before they're torn apart."

She considered skipping the commencement ceremony until a very important person urged her to go. "My daughter insisted, so I'll be there. There are so many folks who will be in the audience to see me graduate. I'm excited. I worked hard for this. I really did."

Jeremy Phelps, M.D.

Jeremy Phelps, M.D., is not the typical Cameron student. As Chief Resident in the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of New Mexico (UNM) Health Sciences Center in Albuquerque, the Oklahoma native earned an MBA through CU's online program.

"Healthcare is a multi-faceted subject, incorporating things such as medicine, business, policy, and communication," Dr. Phelps says. "Attempting to provide good care without at least some understanding of all these issues would be similar to performing surgery while knowing only a portion of the relevant anatomy. Physicians must be able to understand the issues and ‘speak the language' of business in order to provide meaningful discussions for the improvement of healthcare of both our patients and the country. I wanted the ability to be part of the healthcare discussion. Additionally, I enjoy learning and finding the connections between seemingly unrelated topics and the study of business with an emphasis on healthcare allowed me to accomplish this."

He chose Cameron's online MBA program because "Cameron offered the flexibility necessary to complete my MBA while actively working as a physician." 

Juggling a graduate degree with the grueling schedule of a chief resident might seem a daunting task, but Dr. Phelps met the challenge head-on. He maintained a 4.0 GPA, published and/or presented five research papers and won a Distinguished Research Award at the Allied Academies Spring International Conference in 2009. The best part of his Cameron experience, he says, has been "the ability to study business with a special focus on my area of interest - healthcare."

After completing his residency this summer, he will enter private medical practice in Enid in August. "I am looking forward to implementing what I have learned during my time at Cameron into my medical practice in order to provide the best care possible for patients," he says.

Sgt. Michael Roberts

Sergeant Michael Roberts knew he wanted to serve as an officer in the U.S. Army early in his military career. "It was a goal of mine back when I was a private," he says. "In order to reach that goal, I had to go to school, but I got married and had kids. Because of my family responsibilities, I put school aside."

Following deployment to Iraq, he was stationed at Fort Sill as a drill sergeant for basic training units. "Being a drill sergeant is hard because of the schedule," he says. "That's when I realized I needed to go ahead and pursue my goals. I fell in love with training, and I knew that as an officer, I could influence training at a different level."

Sgt. Roberts attended a briefing about the Army's Green-To-Gold program, which allows enlisted soldiers to earn an officer's commission and college degree as full-time students through Army ROTC. That's where he learned about Cameron's Army ROTC program. He enrolled at Cameron and began taking online courses even before he was accepted into the Green-To-Gold active duty program. Because he had finished most of the general education requirements at prior schools, he was able to start focusing on his area of interest, psychology. 

"Cameron offered online classes, which was really beneficial to help achieve what I wanted to do," he says. "I've had a lot of great psychology professors that have influenced me. The campus itself and what it offers has had a big impact on my life. But the biggest thing about Cameron is the quality of the academics and instructors."

Sgt. Roberts serves as part of the Cadet Command Leadership for Cameron's Army ROTC program of over 100 students. Last summer, he was named the number one cadet in his platoon at the Leadership Development and Assessment Course in Fort Lewis, Washington, which brings junior cadets from across the nation.    

Next week, Sgt. Roberts will realize his goals of getting a college degree and becoming an officer when he receives a Bachelor of Science degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and is commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Medical Services Corps stationed at Fort Sill. He plans to continue his education at Cameron by pursuing a Master's degree in Behavioral Science. That will help him achieve yet another of his goals: serving as a psychologist in the U.S. Army.

William Schlecht

Like many students, William Schlecht enrolled at Cameron following a successful career in the U.S. Armed Forces. With his sights set on becoming a history teacher, he tackled his required coursework with enthusiasm. Dr. Michael Dunn's Principles of Biology class made him rethink his specialty.

"After the first week of Principles of Biology, I was hooked," Schlecht says. "Dr. Dunn introduced me to a world that I had always taken for granted, and I found myself fascinated with plant and animal life."

Before long, Schlecht changed his major to biology. Then, when the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education approved Cameron's Biology Education degree program in 2007, he found the ideal program for an aspiring teacher who discovered a passion for biology. As a Biology Education major, he was mentored by faculty members from two academic disciplines. "Learning from the dedicated faculty of the Physical Sciences and Education departments has been the best part of my Cameron experience," he says. "They are awesome."

For his senior capstone project, William developed the Cameron Tree Tour, which identifies 18 trees and shrubs on the Cameron campus, each chosen for their ethnobotanical, economic and/or esthetic value. Each tree is marked by a plaque that indicates the route of a one-mile trail through the Cameron Green.

On May 7, 2010, Schlecht will receive the first baccalaureate degree awarded by Cameron in Biology Education. He plans to enjoy the summer, then head back to Cameron to start pursuing a Master of Education degree. He will also be putting his bachelor's degree to work as a biomedical instructor at Great Plains Technology Center.

CU's international students

This spring, 61 international students from 24 countries will graduate from Cameron University including students with homes in Nepal, Nigeria, Hong Kong, China, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, El Salvador, Bolivia, Argentina, Grenada, Australia, Chile, Japan, Jamaica, Venezuela, Solomon Islands, Mexico, Canada, Taiwan, Kenya, South Africa, India, Sweden, and the Commonwealth of Dominica.  These graduates traveled a combined distance of more than 275,000 miles just to attend college -  11 times greater than the circumference of the Earth at the equator.  Tom Dicker, who will receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Health and Physical Education, has travelled more than 9,100 miles for his college degree. A native of Melbourne, Australia, he was a member of the Aggie baseball team, playing shortstop. 

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April 30, 2010

PR#10-109