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On this graduation weekend, let’s just for a moment, put aside our collective worries about declining enrollment, state funding, squabbling between campuses and reflect on the impact Southern Illinois University has, and has had, on many of our lives.

As the spring semester comes to an end, SIUC will confer hundreds of degrees to young men and women hungry to make their way into the real world. That scenario has been repeating itself since Southern Illinois Normal University enrolled its first 53 students in 1869.

Once the 2018 graduates have that degree in hand, they become part of an extended family of Salukis (and formerly Maroons) that includes hundreds of thousands of people, including those 53 undergrads that first walked onto the SINU classrooms in 1869.

Many of the newly-minted graduates will become part of our daily life in these United States. They will take the skills and knowledge they gleaned from their years as SIU to find jobs, form businesses and possibly go into research that will discover the cure for the common cold, send human beings to other planets or make real breakthroughs in providing food for our planet’s burgeoning population.

There is plenty of precedent.

Perhaps the next Joan Higginbotham, a NASA astronaut who traveled into space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, walked across the SIU Arena stage this weekend. Perhaps the next Jim Bitterman, CNN’s senior European correspondent, just received his or her radio-television degree.

Perhaps another Donald McHenry, former United States ambassador to the United Nations, has been in our midst for the past four years. Or, maybe the next Jim Belushi or Connie Price-Smith, armed with a degree from SIU, will take the world by storm.

The list of scholars, politicians, athletes, entertainers and journalists who have made significant impacts in our world after graduating from SIU is nearly endless. For those of us who call Southern Illinois home, it’s sometimes easy to forget what an important institution SIU is.

But, the college experience is broader than just the degree that is earned.

Graduates crossing the stage this weekend become a part of SIU history. Their coming of age experience here will forever be etched in their souls and psyche. That holds true whether they are residents of Carbondale, any of the 50 states or one of the 100 countries represented by SIU’s student body.

As a few years pass, they will realize that the years they spent in the hallways of Neckers, Faner or Life Science II shaped their lives in ways they couldn’t imagine. Even if some alumni never set foot in Carbondale again, SIU will forever be part of their lives.

To paraphrase a line frequently delivered by former SIU athletic director Mario Moccia during SIU’s annual athletic hall of fame banquet, “You may no longer have a Carbondale address, but you will always have a home at SIU.”

Therein lies the true value of the university.

Yes, it’s nice to cite famous alumni, but it is the positive effect that SIU has had on our daily lives. There’s a good chance your family doctor is an SIU grad. Perhaps your son or daughter’s favorite teacher graduated from SIU. Maybe the person who helped you negotiate a mortgage is a Saluki.

So, while the final strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” hang in the soft breezes of a Southern Illinois spring, it is important to keep perspective. Despite the current issues swirling around the institution, SIU is, and will be, important to all of us in Southern Illinois … and beyond.

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