Stepping into the Future

More than 13,000 students proudly received their degrees, joining the ranks of Penn State alumni.

Traveling the Winding Road

When Krisann Cruickshank was growing up in Jamaica, she never dreamed that she would someday graduate from Penn State. This past Saturday, she walked across the stage to receive her bachelor of science in criminal justice at Penn State Berks.

Cruickshank, an immigrant and first-generation college student, struggled in school after moving to the United States at the age of 14. She aspired to attend community college, but her mother encouraged her to apply to Penn State.

She chose Penn State Berks because of the smaller-sized campus so she could focus on her studies, “while still earning the big university degree,” she explains.

Although her first semester went smoothly, Cruickshank began to suffer from depression and anxiety. She sought help from a Penn State Berks counselor who helped her focus on her goals and shift her thinking. She decided that she needed to be the “best version of herself and do the most she could do” to succeed.

Cruickshank, who eventually went on to make the Dean’s List, developed a hunger for knowledge and became actively involved on campus, serving as the president of the Black Student Union at Penn State Berks and completing an internship with Police Services.

female student accepting her diploma at graduation

Krisann Cruickshank receives her diploma

Krisann Cruickshank received her bachelor of science degree in criminal justice on Saturday, May 5 at Penn State Berks. An immigrant and first-generation college student, she credits the faculty and staff at Berks for believing in her and not allowing her to quit. 

IMAGE: Kathryn Quinn

“The professors and classes challenged me to get out of my comfort zone, and it was the best thing for me." —Krisann Cruickshank

Of Penn State Berks, Cruickshank says, “The professors and classes challenged me to get out of my comfort zone, and it was the best thing for me. During my criminal justice courses, I went on 'ride alongs' with the West Reading Police Department. Penn State Berks has great faculty and staff; they believe in you and don’t let you quit.”

Cruickshank aspires to work for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office while studying for LSATs and going on to law school. Her goal is to become a criminal defense attorney and ultimately a judge.

Seizing the Opportunity

Although Lauren Clemens had earned an associate degree in business studies and had a full-time job as a human resource coordinator in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, she always dreamed of earning her bachelor’s degree. Thanks to Penn State York’s accelerated bachelor of science (BSB) degree, she graduated this past Friday with her diploma.

“I did it all,” said Clemens. “The program allowed me to take a mixture of courses including the accelerated format, regular evening classes, online courses, and even an independent study. These options allowed me to complete the degree more quickly while I continued to work,” she said.

woman walking across stage to receive her diploma

Lauren Clemens graduates from Penn State York

Lauren Clemens graduated on Friday, May 4 from Penn State York's accelerated bachelor of science degree program. The mixture of formats that the program offered allowed her to continue working full-time while earning a Penn State degree. 

IMAGE: Dave McLaughlin

"I did it all. The program allowed me to take a mixture of courses including the accelerated format, regular evening classes, online courses, and even an independent study." —Lauren Clemens

Clemens appreciated the small classes and the personal attention available at the campus. Her favorite thing about Penn State York is its small size and the diversity of its students. She also enjoyed the opportunity to get to know other adult students and the professors.

She was recently inducted into the campus chapter of Alpha Sigma Lambda, a national honor society that recognizes the unique achievements demonstrated by adult students. She also took advantage of an opportunity to travel to Houston, Texas, over spring break, to do disaster relief work in the areas devastated by Hurricane Harvey as part of a group of students from five other Penn State campuses. The Penn State group was about 100 strong.

Gaining a Degree and Confidence

Four years ago, Stephanie Reynolds couldn’t imagine working full time, raising her four children, and being a full-time college student. But when she found out she could go to Penn State online, she was determined to earn her degree. On Saturday, May 5, Reynolds graduated with her bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from Penn State World Campus.

The path to get there wasn’t easy. She struggled initially with school, eventually dropping out when she and her husband found out they were pregnant with their son.

“We made a deal that when one of us got a job, the other would stay home with the baby,” says Reynolds. “That has been our way for the past 20 years. Through thick and thin, we have been together as a family. We have even survived homelessness when neither of us had a job, and the rent came due one too many times without a way to pay it. We managed to come out of it at the end a bit beleaguered but still together as a family.”

Despite advancing one job at a time, Reynolds wanted more. She credits a dinner conversation with Amy Dietz, former staff member, academic adviser, faculty member, and graduate of theLabor and Employment Relations Program at Penn State, for giving her the push she needed to pursue a degree.

“I said I had no time for school,” says Reynolds, “and she gave me a Penn State World Campus brochure, her business card, and her spiel about the 100 percent online labor and employment relations degree. I left that dinner with a feeling of empowerment I had never felt before.”

In her time as an adult learner, Reynolds served on the Penn State World Campus student advisory board and spoke at the University’s annual State of State event in February. She has been an advocate for World Campus students to have more of a voice in student government.

“I would say that even five years ago I wouldn’t be talking in front of people like I am. I wouldn’t be able to do it if weren’t for World Campus.” —Stephanie Reynolds

The experience has given her confidence.

“I would say that even five years ago I wouldn’t be talking in front of people like I am,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to do it if weren’t for World Campus.”

For more information about commencement, including schedules for Summer and Fall 2018 ceremonies, visit www.commencement.psu.edu. Post or view additional photos from throughout the weekend using the #PSUgrad hashtag.