June 07, 2018

Student speakers inspire graduates at spring commencement ceremonies

Jennifer Segal (left), Elizabeth Preze (center) and Elizabeth Juárez Diaz (right) spoke at spring commencement ceremonies. Photos: By Rebecca Studios.

St. Catherine University spring commencement ceremonies were celebrated on at The O'Shaughnessy on May 19 and 20. Student speakers Jennifer Segal, Elizabeth Preze and Elizabeth Juárez Diaz addressed their classmates and guests at the commencement ceremony for their college. Their words not only inspired audiences, the speeches showcased the power of the education these women received at St. Kate's.

Jennifer Segal, College for Adults

Jennifer Segal, who graduated with a bachelor of science in nursing, addressed the College for Adults graduates. Segal earned her third St. Kate’s degree on May 19. She first earned an associate of applied science in 1997 as an occupational therapy assistant. She later returned to St. Kate’s for an associate of science in nursing, which she completed in 2002.

Jennifer describes her life’s work as geriatric care. Recently, Jennifer spoke at the Minnesota Senate committee hearing on elder abuse. She brought with her stories of her experiences with vulnerable adults as a home care nurse. She states that her recent social and political advocacy for elder abuse issues in Minnesota were inspired by her courses at St. Kate’s.

Excerpt from Jennifer's speech:

"St. Kate’s unique mission is rooted in the values of social justice and integrity. I admit I was a little frustrated when I found out that I needed to take two additional required Core Curriculum classes for my baccalaureate degree. At the time, I felt it was additional time and money that wasn’t necessary. I was wrong!

I am convinced that I’m speaking here today because of these Core classes. The Reflective Woman and Global Search for Justice changed my life. These two classes inspired me to act and create change for the most vulnerable in our society. Simply put, the combination of the Core classes, my responsibility as a nurse to advocate and the mission of St Kate’s have given me the insight and the tools to use my voice.

My new motto as a nurse and as an advocate is the one taught by Dr. Nancy Heitzeg, professor of sociology, 'There is no justice without action.' I am using my voice today and over the past several months in ways that I would never have considered possible without returning to school to complete my RN-BSN degree at St Kate’s.

My passion has always been in geriatrics. Through my life experiences and professional practice, I am a strong advocate for my patients and their families. St. Kate’s has prepared me to use my voice on a larger scale. Inspired by my Core classes, I decided to become a member of Elder Voice Family Advocates. In this new role, I testified before the Minnesota State Senate this earlier this year, and then in the House of Representatives. I also participated and spoke out about injustices in a telephone town hall meeting and participated in a roundtable discussion with Senator Amy Klobuchar’s staff.

St. Kate’s has given me the tools, the credibility, the support, and the voice to advocate on a larger scale for those most vulnerable. When I sought advice from faculty whether to testify or not, it was no surprise they followed up with evidence-based information and scholarly research to support the reasons I should testify. They also reminded me that the mission and values of St. Kate’s empower students to become confident leaders who dare to create change."

Elizabeth Preze, Graduate College

Elizabeth Preze earned her second St. Kate’s degree in 2018, a doctorate in nursing practice. Her first degree from the University was a bachelor’s in nursing in 1991. She went on to earn a master’s degree at Loyola University, and made her way back to St. Kate’s for the DNP program.

Elizabeth has been a pediatric nurse since earning her bachelor’s degree, and a pediatric nurse practitioner in cardiac surgery and cardiology for the past 17 years. Elizabeth currently works as a pediatric nurse practitioner and the manager of transplant services at Children’s Hospital of Minnesota. She has been instrumental in developing the first solid organ transplant program at Children's. The heart transplant program is set to launch this summer.

Excerpts from Elizabeth's speech:

"27 years ago I sat in this auditorium and received my baccalaureate degree in nursing. I could never know at that time how my experience at St. Kate's would influence me as young woman, in my career, and my life.

As I contemplated a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, considered all the options available, and St. Kate’s continued to rise as my top choice. As I reflected back on all that I had achieved in my career by that point, I realized that my successes had been in part a result of my experiences and preparation here at St. Kate’s. The academic excellence, the leadership opportunities, the exposure to a diverse group of women and professors who challenged me to think more broadly, beyond my own personal experiences, contributed to the success I have enjoyed both in my life and career.

While time changes things, there are some important things that have not changed here at St. Kate's since I was an undergraduate. First, academic excellence continues to be the cornerstone of the University. Second, St. Kate's commitment to developing ethical leaders who act with integrity is very much alive and well. Third, its social justice teachings continue to be integrated in the education and community, with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet continuing to set a strong example for all of us.

When I began this journey, I was excited to be back at St. Kate's but a bit apprehensive about returning to academics. However, from the very beginning I knew I was in the right place to achieve my goal of earning the DNP. I was supported and challenged by my professors, classmates and the University community to broaden my thinking and grow as a nursing leader and as a person. I have appreciated the diversity of St. Kate’s and my DNP cohort which provided me with a richer learning experience. The curriculum was rigorous, and at times I was pushed to complete assignments that took me way out of my comfort zone, culminating with being chosen to give this commencement speech!

I have always been proud to be a Katie, but over the past two years I have never been more proud to be a Katie. As a University, we have been faced with some unprecedented challenges. It was during these challenging times that President Roloff set an example for all of us. President Roloff transparently communicates with the St. Kate’s community, faces challenges head on with strength and grace, and from these experiences under her leadership, the University has emerged stronger. Under our president’s leadership, our community celebrates our similarities, our differences, our successes, and our failures. We ask for help when we need it and commit to becoming better people and improving our community by being brave enough to take the journey."

Elizabeth Juárez Diaz, College for Women

Elizabeth Juárez Díaz earned a bachelor of science degree in chemistry. She has excelled as a scholar at St. Kate’s, with the guidance of faculty, staff and peers and a tenacity and work ethic not often seen.

Elizabeth’s parents moved the family to the U.S. in order to achieve the dream of education for their children. Elizabeth, the oldest of her siblings, was the first in her family to graduate from high school. She is now a college graduate and will soon head to Rochester for a job and additional education at the Mayo Clinic.

Not only has Elizabeth achieved great things in her scholarly work, she has been very involved in campus organizations. Here’s a very short list of her many accomplishments: Thomas More Award winner, Earle C. Smith Award winner, recipient of the Phillips Family Foundation Scholarship, winner of the Undergraduate Award in Inorganic Chemistry, a member of the Iota Sigma Pi honor society, co-president and founder of the First-Generation Scholars League , recipient of the Sister Helen Jordan scholarship for chemistry, recipient of the Sister Juana Inez Scholarship from the Mexican Consulate, winner of the Nichole Miller Justice Award, recipient of a St. Catherine University Presidential Scholarship, recipient of the Medtronic Wallin Education Partners Scholarship, and a member of Minnesota Future Doctors.

Except from Elizabeth's speech:

"Throughout my educational journey, I found a voice that I did not know I had, and I have used my voice to influence the world. However, my journey to obtain an education has not always been an easy one. Being an undocumented student, I had to live between two worlds — the one of my academics, and the one of making sure my family and community stayed together. There were times where I almost dropped out, but thanks to the strong community of mentors at St. Kate's, I persevered and I am graduating. There were three stages to my graduation success process: learning, loving, and leading.

The most important thing I learned was what a valuable sacrifice my parents had made, to leave their loved ones and home to pursue a dream for me to receive an education, risking their life doing so. I learned what college was all about because I was the first in my family to graduate from high school. I learned who I was and what I was passionate about after changing my major to chemistry to learn the language of molecules to one day cure cancer. The chemistry department guided me to the limits of knowledge that shaped me into a thoughtful researcher and have prepared me for a career after graduation.

In this process, I was very fortunate to connect with The Center for Women and learn about many students and other cultures. Believe it or not, being at St. Kate’s was the first time in my life where I learned about Islam and how beautiful and connected the ideas of Islamic beliefs are to my own Catholic beliefs. Through this process I learned about many different identities and cultures. I gained lifelong friends and valuable knowledge. Last year there were many students and their families affected by the Muslim travel ban and changes to the DACA program. It was the St. Kate’s Student Senate that organized a campus rally in support of DACA students at St. Kate’s. All students, regardless of their different identities and beliefs, supporting one another, taught me the power of educated women with a shared mission using purpose and community to achieve goals. To me, this was an unlimited source of power, change, and hope.

Meeting and working with student leaders who were actively working to empower their communities motivated me to do the same. I learned about many of the issues in addition to DACA that intersect and affect women, and how race and class are part of that. With all this learning I grew to love, and I was prepared to fulfill the mission of St. Kate's, which is to educate women to lead and influence, and I would add lead and influence through learning and love."