Graduation student speaker: Stephanie Paluda

Stephanie Paluda was one of the student speakers at the Penn State World Campus Graduation Celebration for summer semester. Watch a recording of the event. Here are the remarks she shared:

In late summer of 2005, I had just finished up a week-long, grueling experience. I had gone into the event expecting a fun summer camp, but instead it was a boot camp—Pennsylvania State Trooper Youth Week to be exact—where Pennsylvania high schoolers are given the opportunity to test out a week in the life of a state trooper. I packed snacks, a softball glove, and my bathing suit, only to leave all of those items with my parents at orientation.

To say it was militant was an understatement. Physical education at 5:00 a.m., non-stop marching, and push ups for any person who stepped out of line. I went to bed every night with the sounds of other cadets crying themselves to sleep and awoke every morning to fewer people because students had dropped out. At the end of the week, I was one of the few cadets left standing. I was sent back home with the most outstanding cadet award, a scholarship, and a speaking tour with the American Legion. That experience was my first building block.

After high school, I went out of state to the University of Tennessee for a few years. I was the first in my family to go to college and decided to go to a school where I didn’t know anyone. During my junior year, I decided to study abroad for 6 months in Germany. Once again, I was traveling alone and I didn’t know anyone. After those experiences, I decided I needed to move back home to start building roots in the city where I wanted to end up. I finished my undergrad degree at the University of Pittsburgh. And those experiences are what I consider my second major building block.

I landed a job after college doing public outreach, where I continued to develop my independence. I would tell myself that I wasn’t living if I wasn’t getting outside of my comfort zone. After a few years in that role, I moved on to a larger firm doing similar work and decided I needed to take another step outside of my comfort zone.

So I began to pursue an MBA, because I knew it would push me. The program instantly took me back to my State Trooper Youth Week days of struggling alongside my peers. Dropping out crossed my mind many times, as there were so many classes and lessons that were far outside of my comfort zone. But, as I stand here today, I am reminded that in order to continue to move forward and progress, you must look back on your building blocks and the foundation for confidence and success that you have built, and continue to step outside of your comfort zone.

Everyone here today has a newfound building block to look back on. No matter how long it took you to get here, or how painful it was, you have finished and I encourage you to look back on your time here at Penn State and remember those building blocks when tackling your next goal.

Thank you!

If you plan on attending the Graduation Celebration on Friday, December 15 and are interested in sharing your story, please email with a few sentences about why you would like to speak at the celebration.