Rider University graduating senior Heather Shankman, of Basking Ridge, was chosen to give the student address at the university's commencement on May 11—and she said she was thankful to be there at all.
A general advertising major with a double minor in public relations and sports marketing, it's also an accomplishment that Shankman will graduate on time following a number of severe health complications. Shankman graduated from in 2008.
Shankman had a near death experience in 2010 and was on life support for many days, according to information from the college.
"It's a miracle I am here today," said Shankman, who has undergone two heart surgeries in the past year. But that did not deter her from meeting the goals she had set.
"Due to my determination, drive and 'never give up' attitude, it was my goal to finish college on time," Shankman said. "In order to accomplish that goal, I took 18 credits during the summer as well as the following semesters, since the incident."
Rider University reported some of Shankman's address from commencement: “I remained on life support for three days, since I was unable to breathe on my own, while the doctors told my parents that it did not look promising and they should consider making the necessary arrangements,” Shankman told her classmates. “I have had two heart surgeries as a result of my near-death experience, but I can assure everyone here today that if I can get through all of this, with my head held high, pushing forward, you can do anything you set your mind to.”
Shankman's bond with Rider University in Lawrenceville was recalled as being immediate — she said she felt comfortable the first time she visited the university for an open house during her senior year of high school. She said she certainly made the campus a place to call home for the past four years.
"I instantly felt at home," Shankman said. "It's hard to explain the feeling, but the campus was so beautiful and the students were so friendly."
Shankman has also spent time at Rider working for athletics marketing and the promotions staff, attending all men and women's basketball games and other sporting events to hand out t-shirts and bobblehead dolls, and working on special events. She is also part of Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed fraternity focused on community service.
Even with all that going on, Shankman managed to launch her own graphics t-shirt business, Shankman Promotions, the school said.
"It was actually one of those spur-of-the-moment opportunities that presented itself to me while I was on vacation with my mom," she explained. "Entrepreneurs and business owners have always fascinated me ever since I was a little girl. As I continued to get older, I witnessed my parents start their own marketing and media company. They have been a huge influence on this endeavor, which has become quite successful."
Because of her health issues, she had to put the business on hold, but said she plans to dedicate more time and focus to Shankman Promotions following graduation.
Shankman said she will enjoy a just shortened summer break, "trading in" months of fun in the sun for just a few weeks, since she has accepted a job with a pharmaceutical publishing company.
By delivering the student address at commencement, Shankman said she has fulfilled a dream she has had since she was a freshman.
"I truly feel honored to be able to have such an opportunity to speak in front of my classmates, peers, friends and family who have stood by us through these past four years," she said.
"I feel as if I can represent the student body very well considering I have shared the same experiences, both positive and negative, during my years at Rider. I have done all-nighters in the 24-hour lounge, I have made those late-night diner runs and have also have my share of unforgettable weekends on campus. I look forward to giving a speech that is relatable to each and every student graduating this year."
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