Thomas encourages grads to dream big at fall commencement

Instructor of Wildlife Technology Emily Thomas.

Penn State DuBois Instructor in Wildlife Technology Emily Thomas urged graduates to dream big during her commencement address Thursday evening in Hiller Auditorium.

Credit: Steve Harmic

More than 40 Penn State DuBois graduates proudly walked in fall commencement ceremonies Thursday evening in Hiller Auditorium. Chancellor Melanie Hatch conferred degrees at the ceremony. Penn State DuBois Instructor in Wildlife Technology Emily Thomas provided an inspiring commencement address, encouraging graduates to always chase their dreams. Thomas was recognized by the DuBois Educational Foundation as its 2013-2014 Educator of the Year. The award is given annually to recognize excellence in teaching.

Thomas offered four points that contained tips for finding success and happiness in her address. They included, "Have Big Dreams," "Believe Anything is Possible," "Create Opportunities" and "Pursue Your Passion."

"Do you remember when you were little and someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up and you answered with astronaut, or movie star or professional baseball player?" Thomas asked the graduates. "I encourage you to dig down deep and get back to your childish ways, at least when it comes to dreaming about your future. Take a second to think about what your dream future would look like. What do you wish for when you blow out the candles on your birthday cake? Or when you see a shooting star? I should see a little smirk coming across all of your faces as you think about it. Where would you be working? What would you be doing for a job? Where would you live? Would you be married? What type of person would you marry? Would you have children? Maybe you would rather have dogs. Or guinea pigs. It is your dream. Make it as big as you can. And know that it is possible to attain those dreams."

However, Thomas reminded her audience that achieving those dreams does not come without work and commitment.  She said, "You worked so hard, and the degree is finally yours. But you cannot stop there. You need to keep that strong work ethic. Don’t get lazy. Not even for a day. Apply for jobs. Further your education. Create more opportunities. You created a great opportunity for yourself by choosing to further your education at Penn State DuBois. You chose a great institution and please know that we will always be here for you, regardless of where you go in the future. We love when you come back to visit and tell us all of the wonderful things you have accomplished. But you must continue to work hard. Now that you have dreams and believe that anything is possible, you must determine how you are going to get there. You are no longer following a recommended plan of courses. There is no written plan for your future. How are you going to land that dream job? What steps will it take? Know that it will take steps, it will not just happen tomorrow. This is why we focus on teaching you how to think critically and figure out problems. You must create still more opportunities for yourself. You aren’t done yet." 

Thomas also related her own story of how she made her dreams come true as a graduate of the very same program in which she now teaches.  She was on the other side of the desk as a student in the Penn State DuBois Wildlife Technology Program just over seven years ago.

"I remember writing an email to one of my instructors here at Penn State DuBois when I started my junior year. It was only three months after I was sitting where you are now. I mentioned to her that I intended to get a master’s and that I would finish in 2011, which I hoped would be right before the other two wildlife teachers retired. I told her that teaching in the wildlife program would be amazing. I loved the program and the idea of staying at Penn State DuBois for my career," Thomas said. "But I was 20 years old. It was a big dream, one that I knew was a stretch, but I kept it alive over the years. I earned my master’s and stayed in contact with the program. And here I stand now. I am in the middle of my third year teaching in the program, and the instructor I wrote to back then is now a colleague. I could not be happier."

Thomas earned an associate in science from the Penn State DuBois Wildlife Technology Program in 2007. She then went on to University Park campus to earn a bachelor of science in wildlife and fisheries science in 2009, and a master of science in wildlife and fisheries science in 2011.

Thomas has been an Instructor in wildlife technology since August 2012.  She oversees a student-run songbird banding station and runs a public Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship bird banding station at the Jamestown Audubon Sanctuary in Jamestown, New York.  She also monitors American Kestrel nest boxes in Warren County, Pennsylvania, and Chautauqua County, New York, and participates in the monitoring of the Northern Goshawk population in Pennsylvania.  Professionally, she is the vice president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Wildlife Society and serves on the board of the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology.

Recipients of academic awards for highest distinction were Alexandria Strike of Emporium, Pennsylvania, for associate degrees, and Christina Lockwood of Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania, for baccalaureate degrees.

Upon receiving her award, Lockwood said, "This campus has not only changed my life, it has changed me. I am stronger, more confident and more capable to change the world in ways that I never thought possible.  hrough kindness and compassion; through wisdom and knowledge; through everyday acts of defiance; through patience and determination; I will carry on with my life forever changed for the better by Penn State DuBois."