Distingushed Alumnus Award honoree Dame Libby Komaiko

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Dame Libby Komaiko encouraged Northeastern Illinois University’s graduates to be lifelong learners during Commencement on Dec. 13 at UIC Pavilion in Chicago.

“As you step forward to receive your diplomas exhibiting well-earned self-esteem and confidence, we are so proud of all of you,” she said. “Continue forward and remember that the inevitable times of falling backward will ultimately challenge you to create the opportunity to redirect your energy and plans in a new direction.”

Komaiko was presented with the highest honor Northeastern bestows upon alumni, the Distinguished Alumnus Award.

“At Northeastern, one of our most treasured values is the attainment of excellence,” President Sharon K. Hahs said. “Among our many thousands of successful Northeastern alumni, Libby Komaiko is an exemplar.”

Komaiko founded the Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater, in residence at Northeastern, in 1975.  The Ensemble is dedicated to the presentation, preservation and promotion of classical, folkloric, flamenco and contemporary dance and music traditions of Spain.

“Dame Libby’s artistry, hard work and commitment, and her passion—for Spanish dance, for her students and for the Northeastern community—embody the excellence that everyone at Northeastern aspires to,” Hahs said.

Komaiko developed the Ensemble into a premier, international player in the dance community. Today, the Ensemble boasts 17 professional dancers, an 18-member youth company, and program and scholarship endowments.  The Ensemble has been a valuable asset to the University through dance classes, community outreach, and the promotion of artistic and academic excellence at all ages.

“I loved my time as an NEIU student,” said Komaiko, who graduated from Northeastern in 1978 with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University Without Walls program. “Friendships remain to this day as well as the wonderful memories of inspired lives. Graduates, I hope that you will live this strong life force as productive citizens, open to inclusion in our diverse and culturally rich world. The world needs you now.”

Komaiko’s message of livelong learning was a theme of the event.

“Even though you have graduated, you must continue to seek knowledge and search for truth,” Board of Trustees Chair Carlos Azcoitia said. “The world is your new classroom. Go out there and own it.”

In an emotional address, student speaker Samantha Sartin encouraged graduates to control their own futures.

“Society and statistics told me that as a high school dropout and single mother, I would never see a college degree,” she said. “I was motivated to prove those statistics wrong and model excellence and hard work to my daughters, Lyric and London. Now six years later I stand before you with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and I have applied to graduate school for the spring semester.”

Hahs challenged students on three points: to live with integrity, to be lifelong learners and to be good citizens and give back.

“I congratulate you and commend you for your accomplishments,” she said. “As you leave here today, know that we have confidence in the future because we have confidence in you. We are proud of you.”

Near the end of the ceremony, Provost Richard J. Helldobler made an appeal to the graduates and audience to support Northeastern’s alumni, current students and future students by encouraging state leaders to settle on an appropriation for Illinois’ public universities.

“It is essential to the public good to keep our quality universities funded,” Helldobler said, imploring the crowd to join together in a chant of “fund our future.”

Also at the Commencement ceremony

  • Professor of Earth Science Laura Sanders was presented with the Audrey Reynolds Distinguished Teaching Award.
  • Northeastern honored professors emeriti Murray Ardies, Shelley Bannister, David Rutschman and Michael Weinberg.
  • Psychology graduate Edgar Torres presented the NEIU Foundation with a Class Gift of more than $5,000, a record total. “In this way, the Class of 2015 is demonstrating that it learns in the city and leads in the world, and I am happy to be a part of this effort,” Torres said.
  • The processional and recessional were performed by the University Brass Ensemble and conducted by Associate Professor of Music Travis Heath. The national anthem was performed by Nicholas Brubaker.