BLOOMINGTON — For Nicole and Jennifer Chlebek, graduation day at Illinois Wesleyan University was the day they had been waiting on for four years.
“It’s the end of one journey and the beginning of a new one,” said Nicole on Sunday, moments before she and her twin sister received diplomas as part of the 166th graduation ceremony at the Shirk Center on IWU's campus in Bloomington on Sunday.
The natives of Lombard had both decided on Wesleyan — Nicole getting a double major in environmental studies and sociology and Jennifer earning a degree in biology — but having been around each other their entire lives, they also wanted to branch out somewhat on their own before college ended.
“We’ve had separate rooms and separate roommates and all of that, but we somehow ended up with the same group of friends," Nicole said. "We wanted to be a little different, but I don’t think we will ever be able to get away from each other.”
For Bloomington resident and nursing major Molly Lessen, the day served as somewhat of a family tradition. Both of her parents are IWU graduates.
“I think we’re going to be taking a lot of alumni pictures,” she said. “This school means a lot to me. My mom is a nursing professor here as well, and to me, graduating is very big. It’s an honor for me and a very special day for my family.”
For her friend, Molly Jahrling, also a nursing major, the day was special for her parents as well. She is the last of three children to graduate from college.
“It’s a great day and everyone is so excited and the entire family is here,” she said. “It’s been so hard, but this day makes it worthwhile.”
Accounting major Miriah Burns will be returning to her hometown of Chicago to work in an accounting firm, she said.
“This day means that my future has arrived,” she said. “I came in as a baby. I’m leaving as an adult. Or at least, my version of an adult.”
Her friend, Briana Carter, also of Chicago, received a degree in interdisciplinary educational studies.
“It’s an emotional day,” she said. “I’ve overcome so much and I’m happy and sad at the same time because I am going to miss a lot of wonderful people.”
In her speech as class president, Jazmyne Kellogg encouraged her classmates to be proud of what they have accomplished as a class and as individuals.
“We have made great strides, but we know we will have difficult times ahead,” she said. “But we cannot stop striving for excellence.”
IWU alumnus Bill Damaschke, the producer of two Broadway-bound musicals, delivered the commencement address.
The ceremony to honor the 421 graduates was the first for Eric Jensen, who took over as IWU president in November.
“It’s really exciting because it’s my first, but it’s also everyone else’s first, so I’m telling them that we have that in common,” he said. “It’s a wonderful way to end the year. Everyone is happy and excited. It’s just a lot of fun and a very important day for everyone here.”
Follow Kevin Barlow on Twitter: @pg_barlow.
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