LEWISBURG, Pa. — Just days away from graduating, senior Odeke Ekirapa is nervous. And it's not because Ekirapa will address an expected crowd of about 9,000 people as the student speaker at Bucknell's 162nd Commencement ceremony.
"Every Bucknell student knows about the tradition of walking through the Christy Mathewson Gates," said Ekirapa, a business management major with minors in economics and East Asian studies.
"You enter as freshmen, and walk back through on graduation day. That's it."
But that wasn't it for Ekirapa. A volunteer at last year's commencement ceremony, he passed through the gates while helping another student who was in a wheelchair. Ekirapa is hoping his good deed goes unpunished.
"I have to admit, I've been thinking about it. Is it bad luck? Will I be jinxed? I guess we'll find out," Ekirapa said with a slight smile.
If his selection as student speaker at this year's commencement ceremony is any indication, Ekirapa has luck on his side. Motivated by a touch of sibling rivalry, he had long considered applying for the opportunity to speak at graduation.
"In 2004 my older brother Emukule was the student speaker at Michigan State University's graduation. I've always looked up to him, and I know what a huge deal that was," Ekirapa said. "I also thought, 'If he can do it, I can too.'"
A week away from the deadline to submit a speech, Ekirapa started writing and found himself answering a question he has been asked many times over the year: Why Bucknell?
"Being from Kenya, that is the first thing people ask when you tell them you're going to college in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. I also think it's a question most students can identify with. Answering the question through my own life experiences, I hope my speech will resonate with the majority of the class."
And after four years here, Ekirapa has some good answers: because of the challenging academic environment Bucknell offers, because of the opportunity to get involved and be passionate about projects such as Bicycles Against Poverty, because of the life-long relationships he formed here.
"It's amazing what Bucknell has to offer," Ekirapa said. "It's a great place to do well socially, but still get your academic interests met and be able to achieve your academic goals. My professors did a really good job engaging students, making sure we achieved our full potential. This place brings the best out of you."
Being selected as the Class of 2012's student speaker is a 'huge honor' for Ekirapa, who quickly shared the news with his brother, Emukule.
"He said how amazing it is that we were both chosen to speak on behalf of our class. He's proud and was really happy for me."
After graduation, Ekirapa is headed to New York City, where he'll work at Ralph Lauren. With the success he's experienced, maybe an extra pass through the Christy Mathewson Gates isn't such as bad thing after all.
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