Forensic Student's Commencement Speech Highlights Personal Growth, Professional Opportunities

Jon Carnahan | Undergraduate, Forensic and Investigative Sciences

When Jon Carnahan decided to attend the School of Science, he was stepping outside of his comfort zone. Four years, later he’s glad he did because of the opportunities he found. Carnahan completed two years of interdisciplinary research in a global health and science education project sponsored by the National Science Foundation. He also became actively involved in student organizations such as the Chemistry Club, Biology Club, Pre-Med Club and the Forensic Science Club.Jon Carnahan

Carnahan was chosen to give remarks on behalf of class of 2014 during the School of Science’s commencement ceremonies. This fall he will attend the Marion University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Indianapolis to begin he training as a physician.

Read Carnahan’s speech given during the commencement ceremony Sunday, May 11, 2014:

Growing up outside a small town on a family-owned dairy farm, I didn’t know what diversity was until I came to IUPUI. Attending the third largest university in the state, in the 13th largest city in the U.S., was a stretch for me. My hometown only has one stoplight, that’s right, one stoplight! There are literally more stoplights on the IUPUI campus than in my entire city—so to say I went through some cultural shock was an understatement. In my small high school, where everybody knows everybody and their families, meeting new people and being involved was really easy for me.  Coming to IUPUI, I quickly learned this would not be the same case. When I started as a freshman, I didn’t know anybody and I didn’t know where anything was in Indy! It took most of my freshman year to adjust to this different lifestyle and to start finding my niche at IUPUI. Feeling constrained because of my introverted personality and insecurity, I stuck to what I knew, which was my schoolwork.

After several weeks, I was ahead in my classwork and was going to bed at 10 o’clock. This is something I only wish I could experience again! After some time, I became frustrated because I wasn’t having the experiences that I originally thought I would have. I kept hearing about social events, volunteer opportunities and extracurricular activities secondhand after they had passed. It was then I realized that I was much more responsible for my life outside of my courses. With the appeal of free pizza, I started attending the Chemistry Club monthly meetings. Being in general chemistry courses at the time and the professors being closely associated with the club allowed me to meet my professors in an informal, but personable manner. This made it easier for me as a student to approach my professors and being the young pre-med student that I was, I certainly did. As I gradually became more involved, I began meeting more people and started forming many of the friendships I have today. As my circle of friends expanded, so did my involvement in other organizations which allowed me to meet even more people.Jon Carnahan

Starting my sophomore year, I was getting the hang of this whole college thing and felt much more at home at IUPUI. I had the privilege of taking part in the Life Health Science Internship program, which really opened the floodgates for me. I was able to explore clinical medicine and research, but I didn’t have the opportunities to have hands on experience since we were working directly with patients. Once again, I had to put my shy, introverted personality aside as there were many opportunities that I desired. Soon after this program, I started volunteering regularly in a hospital and started my undergraduate research career. 

When I entered college, I had the mindset that I would never do research. I thought that all research was boring and that I would never be smart enough. After getting a small taste during my internship, I became hungry for more hands on experience. As a result, I was fortunate enough to land a spot with the Distributed Drug Discovery research group. Working with Drs. O’Donnell, Scott and Denton and Ph.D. student Geno Samaritoni, has taught me more than I could have ever known. With this group, I have had numerous opportunities to present my work and was even listed as a coauthor in a recent publication. Looking back at the last two years I spent with this group, I can’t imagine my college experience without it. Not only did I learn a great deal about the field of research, but it transformed my thinking process from a student who just looked for the easy answer to a critical and thorough analyzer. So I encourage each and every one of you to not let your past define your future and to remain open minded for new opportunities. If I hadn’t changed my opinion, I would not be the person I am today.

My undergraduate degree in Forensic and Investigative Science has provided me countless opportunities and experiences. While I knew that attending medical school was ultimately my end goal, this degree option allowed me to go above and beyond the requirements for medical school and permitted me to explore my fascination with science. Having a seemingly endless number of required science courses has allowed me to meet a wider range of people. Not only did I get to interact with the forensic science faculty and students, but also the faculty and students of the chemistry and the biology departments. As a result, I have made many lifelong friends and networks.

While I have purposely chosen the highlights of my career to share with you this evening, know that it has not all been easy and without a cost. I say this not for sympathy because we have all made sacrifices over the years, but as an encouragement. When I would complain to my mother about how hard or unfair things were or when I would get a little homesick, she always indirectly referenced Theodore Roosevelt’s common quote which says: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, or difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”Jon Carnahan

As we finish up our time at IUPUI, I find it only appropriate that we take the time to thank those who have helped get us to where we are today. To the professors who work long hours unnoticed, the IUPUI staff who provided all the tools we needed to learn, and last but certainly not least, the parents and families who encouraged and supported us through this endeavor, I thank you. None of this would have been possible for me without the support of my parents, family and friends. It would have been much easier for me to stay at home and attend the local university where I knew the area and people. Instead, my family helped push me out of my comfort zone in pursuit of a great education. Whether it was financially or emotionally, my family was always there for me and pushed me to never give up no matter what came my way.

After graduation, each of us will take different paths. I, like some of you, will go onto to professional school to become doctors, lawyers or dentists while others will go onto graduate schools to become experts in their field. Yet others will enter society and work in their profession. Whatever your path may be, I encourage you to not let your past or inhibitions slow you down. As I have learned, don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone in pursuit of great things.

Class of 2014, it has been my pleasure to stand and grow among you for past four years. Whether it was cramming for that organic chemistry exam or complaining about how hard it was for the following week, we all got through it—so I applaud you for working together, building lifelong friendships and not giving up. Thank you to all the School of Science faculty and the professors who genuinely cared for us and pushed us educationally. Congratulations School of Science Class of 2014. I wish you all the best and to my mom and all the mothers present—Happy Mothers Day! Thank you and God bless.