Yanina Nickless, the University of Southern Maine's 2019 Commencement Student Speaker, graduated this May with her degree in Political Science and a minor in Economics, completing a journey that began in her home country of Ukraine.
Originally from a farming village of 200 people in the Kherson region of Ukraine, she entered Kherson State University intending to be a teacher of English, German and world literature. Her studies were interrupted by the 2014 revolution in Ukraine.
Yanina visited Maine the following summer, picking the state for its low crime and sense of security. She returned to Maine the following year and enrolled at USM, where she chose to study political science with a focus on international relations.
She loves to learn and explore new subjects, taking biology and accounting just for fun during her time at USM. And she became deeply involved in Maine Model UN, rising to the role of Secretary General in 2018.
Yanina credits USM with expanding her understanding of the world and its endless variety in culture and politics. She plans to pursue a career in international relations.
Without faltering, she delivered her powerful speech to a packed crowd of thousands -- graduating students, their families and friends, faculty members, dignitaries and the press, saying, "USM is a school of life," Nickless said. "It is a place, where you see a single parent of three children, and know they are here because it is the best thing they can do for their family. It is a place where our classmates are people that try to combine full-time jobs with full-time school schedules.
"It is a place of true diversity, where you can learn from veterans, immigrants, retired couples through their experiences," Nickless continued. "It is a place where my dear Political Science professors taught me that it is ok to be different and that words can be so much more powerful than any weapon in the world. It is a place where I found myself and learned that my past made me who I am, but USM shaped it into a powerful force that can inspire changes."
Hear her entire speech here: