NORMAL — On a warm, sunny day, the commencement ceremony for Illinois State University's College of Education included a spirited rendition of “Do you Want to Build a Snowman?”
The ceremony at Redbird Arena was among six at which about 3,450 ISU students marked their graduation on Friday and Saturday.
“It has absolutely nothing to do with my speech,” admitted graduating senior Brian Kulaga about the song from the hit Disney movie “Frozen.” “My friends bet me 100 bucks that I wouldn't do it.”
Yet the song about friendships and courage struck a chord with the nearly 500 future educators receiving bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees.
Catherine Martynowicz of Naperville said the pupils where she student-taught in Elgin sang the song all the time. When Kulaga started singing Saturday, Martynowicz said, “it felt like my kids were here.”
Kulaga, as the student speaker, delivered more than a song. He also delivered a message challenging the age-old saying, “Those that can, do; those that can't, teach.”
He noted the obstacles teachers face — from students who ignore them or hit them to kindergartners who think their teachers are dinosaurs. And teachers overcome both with ingenuity and “abilities unmatched by anyone in any other career field,” he said.
“We can proudly say, 'Those who can do, teach,'” Kulaga said. “They teach with love and genuine concern for all their students, regardless of race, gender or disabilities.”
The eagerness to launch into their careers was evident on the mortarboards that about half the graduates decorated, with messages such as, “Aim High,” “My Turn to Teach” and “I Will Change the World.”
A fair number of caps also thanked moms and dads — appropriate on the day before Mother's Day.
If graduation celebrations overshadowed the holiday, the mothers didn't seem to mind as they expressed pride in their daughters and sons while posing for pictures.
Judi Vallejo of Tinley Park wiped a tear from her eye as her daughter, Cristina Vallejo, talked about following in her mother's footsteps.
“My mom is a teacher and she's awesome,” Christina Vallejo said.
Like her mother, she wants to teach middle school, saying it's a time when “you can really make a difference in their lives.”
Martynowicz, another daughter of a teacher, said her mother always told her to follow her own path, and she decided that path was teaching.
"I like seeing the light bulb go on over the kid's head when he gets it."
Kulaga, of Elmhurst, who graduated summa cum laude with a degree in special education, said he had considered studying to be an actor.
“Then I worked at a summer camp for people with disabilities and that's how I knew,” Kulaga said. “Special education is the more practical degree and more impactful.”