While attending church one Saturday during her junior year in high school, Rockford native Ana Pyper ’16 watched the baptism of a young man with an intellectual disability. But along with a sense of pride she felt for this individual, an overwhelming frustration overcame her. She recalled the countless times she saw people with disabilities be mistreated by society.

Ana Pyper's mortarboard. She designed it after the Chicago flag replacing the stars with teacher apples!

Ana Pyper’s mortarboard. She designed it after the Chicago flag replacing the stars with apples! (Photo courtesy of Ryan Denham).

Instead of simply allowing the feeling to pass, Pyper channeled her frustration into purpose. Last Saturday, she not only graduated from one of the best education programs in the nation, but delivered the type of flawless commencement address only a passionate, talented, and confident new teacher could give.

Pyper’s theme hinged on: “What makes a gold-star teacher?” Her speech also included a unique connection she shares with her mother, the almost unbelievable dedication of one of her past gold-star teachers, and a well-deserved “Woot-woot!” from the audience.

Before reading on, fair warning: Pyper’s speech was so remarkable no more “spoilers” will be included. Instead, readers are encouraged to check out the video!

Before the big day, the special education-learning and behavior specialist (LBS) grad spent some time chatting with us about her time at Illinois State and the future students she cannot wait to meet. After sharing the moment that propelled her to becoming a teacher, Pyper told us how she hoped to change the lives of individuals with disabilities.

“By teaching special education, I knew I would be able to not only work so closely with such a terrific population of people, but I get to advocate for them, and provide them with the tools to eventually advocate for themselves,” she said.

Proud to be Normal-bound

Pyper said her decision to choose Illinois State to pursue her dream was one she’d make again and again.

Ana and her friends from her dorm attend their first Redbird football game during freshman year. From the left: Alexandra Drennan, Kelly Papanicholas, Ana Pyper, and Briana Chambers.

Ana Pyper and her friends from her residence hall attend their first Redbird football game during freshman year. From left, Alexandra Drennan, Kelly Papanicholas, Pyper, and Briana Chambers.

“I am glad I chose ISU because of the community I instantly became a part of upon attending,” she said. “My closest friends to this day are still the girls I met in my residence hall, and I have incredible friends who I know will be mind-blowing teachers in my major.”

Beyond the powerful friendships that were forged over four years, she was inspired by countless faculty and staff members. Among them, Associate Professor Brian Horn, who helped her to uncover her passion for working with low income students in Chicago. Pyper took courses to enhance her ability to serve these students through the Department of Special Education’s INFUSE (Innovative Network of Future Urban Special Educators) sequence and student taught in Garfield Park on Chicago’s West Side.

Horn points to two reasons Pyper will be an asset for Chicago Public Schools (CPS):

“First, she came to Illinois State with experiences from her youth in Rockford that she could connect to her introduction to teaching in Chicago, which helped her see herself as a CPS teacher,” he said. “Second, once Ana envisioned her future teaching in Chicago, she actively engaged in as many opportunities as she could find at ISU to support her journey.”

The LBS major requires commitment from its students. En-route to graduation, they complete three consecutive semesters of intensive clinical experiences including student teaching. But that’s the reason Pyper and her fellow alumni are so competent and confident when they graduate: They participate in at least 500 hours observing or working one-on-one with students before they even begin their student teaching semester.

During practicum, the first of those three clinical semesters, her supervisor was Clinical Assistant Professor Deanna Perkins ’97, M.S.Ed. ’05. The two-time Illinois State grad was quick to realize Pyper’s determination.

“I will definitely treasure the experiences I had at ISU for the rest of my life.” —Ana Pyper

“When I think about Ana, I think of someone who has a genuine passion for teaching students with disabilities,” Perkins said. “She will develop strong rapport with her students and will be a strong advocate for them as well. She will work hard to meet their needs and is not afraid of a challenge.”

Perkins said it was unsurprising then that Pyper has multiple job interviews lined up in Chicago, and will undoubtedly impress hiring administrators if she displays even a fraction of her capabilities.

Psst: Hey future teachers

For any prospective education majors reading this article, Pyper has a message for you.

“When you attend a college the size of ISU, it can be difficult to picture how you’ll fit in or how you’ll find community,” she said. “But it was easy to meet people and create long-lasting friendships. I also feel that I am equipped for the career I will be starting in the fall because of the courses I’ve taken, the professors I’ve worked with, and the resources I’ve been given.”

Finally, Pyper counted down her top three moments of her time at Illinois State. She wanted to provide more.

“Best Buddies my freshman year. I distinctly remember having a party for our buddies, and my buddy, an adult in the community of Bloomington-Normal with multiple disabilities, had a lot of fun, was smiling and laughing, and put together a really neat craft. It was a great way for me to get to know someone in the community that I would not have met otherwise, and kick off what would be an incredible four years learning more about people with disabilities.

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Another top moment of my experience at ISU was returning for Homecoming this year in October. I spent the entire senior year off campus in Chicago, doing my field base and student teaching. I knew I had to make it back for our final Homecoming, and I’m so glad I did. Getting to tailgate with friends, watch the Redbirds play, and be back on the greatest college campus again was one of the most incredible experiences.

Finally, I can’t pinpoint one moment in particular, but many moments spent with friends at ISU come to mind when I think of my favorite moments in college. I made terrific friends when I lived in Manchester-Hewett who are still my closest friends today. We’ve spent days lounging on the quad, gone through the highs and lows of life together, and now, have the opportunity to graduate together. The friendships I made during my time at ISU will remain for many years to come, and I can’t help but thank ISU for making those connections.”

One thought on “College of Education student delivers show-stopping commencement speech

  1. Juanita Houston says:

    Wonderful speech. Many thanks, I have shared this on my fb site!