Graduating senior Michelle Wexler’s father died from cancer when she was 10 years old. His birthday is on May 8, which falls during commencement weekend this year. For Wexler, the date is a time to reflect on her achievements, knowing that her father would have supported her throughout her Illinois State journey.

“This is a way to honor him, but also honor me,” she said. “This is my biggest accomplishment, and I did it to prove to myself I can do it. But I know it is what he would have wanted me to do, that he wouldn’t have wanted me to stop living because he passed. It’s for the both of us.”

The Deerfield native is the first in her family to leave home to study at a four-year university, and she struggled initially with the adjustment. Getting involved on campus helped Wexler feel more at home. She credits the Women in Business registered student organization (RSO) with helping her build a professional network and increase her confidence.

“It’s really empowering, and it helps women find their voice in the workplace,” she said.

Wexler planned to study fashion at Illinois State but pivoted to business administration to better suit her goal of working in corporate merchandising. After graduating, Wexler is starting a management training program through Menards. She wants to gain experience as a store manager and use that as a steppingstone to a leadership position within corporate retail.

“Illinois State has taught me a lot about teamwork and leadership,” she said. “It has shown me how I can lead and contribute wherever I am. If I don’t know something, it has taught me how to find resources that will help me find the answer. Yes, I am getting a degree and an education, but I learned a lot personally.”

Wexler benefited from scholarship support. She received the Marietta Briddick Memorial Scholarship, which is awarded to students majoring in business administration with an emphasis on small business entrepreneurship, and the Bob and Ann Bennes Scholarship, which is awarded to a student who has been impacted by a cancer diagnosis.

“It really makes it all worth it. They help take the stress off,” she said. “Being able to focus on school will really help me in the long run.”

Wexler looks back fondly on her time at Illinois State. Some of her favorite memories are hanging out on the Quad between classes, studying at the Bones Student Center, and working out at the Student Fitness Center.

“I love the student life here,” she said. “Yeah, you have schoolwork and everything, but you have time outside of that.”

Wexler’s advice to future Redbirds is to get involved with campus life early and often.

“It’s OK to be scared, it’s OK to be homesick. I was my first two years,” she said. “But get involved. School’s important but don’t forget to have fun. Join those RSOs and just enjoy it. It flew by. I sometimes feel like I am still a freshman.”

This story is part of a series of profiles on Redbirds who are graduating this May. For more information about how Illinois State is celebrating commencement this semester, visit the Graduation Services website.