“The Journey of Resilience”: College of Business Commencement Student-Speaker Jaylen Jude ’24 Shares His Story

Of all the shared qualities and experiences that unite the Class of 2024, Commencement student-speaker and Portage, Indiana, native Jaylen Jude ’24 places the strongest emphasis on resilience. Our latest graduating class first stepped into their college experience back in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing. What they anticipated to be the start of a great era of independence and personal growth commenced — but not untainted by the universal feelings of anxiety and loneliness that gripped the world. And yet, the Class of 2024 rolled with the punches, emerging victorious with well-tempered strength. To that, Jaylen dedicated his Commencement speech — appropriately titled “The Journey of Resilience.”

Valpo graduate Jaylen Jude '24 looking into the distance while moving on a green field of a campus intramural sporting event.

While COVID-19 and resilience were the driving forces behind Jaylen’s message to his fellow graduates, he stresses that the Class of 2024 prevailed, but did not prevail alone. He is a firm believer in a strong support system and the impact one can have on the day-to-day. “Yes, I’m here,” Jaylen says, referencing his cap and gown, degree, and graduation. “But I’m not here because of myself. I’m here because of those who helped me,” he shares. It’s a testament that’s followed Jaylen throughout his entire Valpo experience, and one he’ll continue to carry with him as he moves forward into the next chapter of his journey.

At the very beginning, Jaylen chose Valpo upon receiving the Lilly Endowment Scholarship, which provides four full-tuition scholarships to selected students from each Indiana county to apply to any state college or university. Uniquely, Valpo also covers room and board expenses for scholarship recipients — making a quality education away from home even more accessible. After learning this, Jaylen knew Valpo was the place for him.

From there, he first enrolled as a computer science major, but once classes started, Jaylen was no longer certain that field was right for him — a situation more common amongst first-year students than one might think. At Valpo, we take pride in offering Beacons of all years and majors a safe place to explore their passions and decide which profession they want to illuminate. It’s not always a straight path, but it is a bright one that leads our Beacons where they’re meant to go. Jaylen switched his major to electrical engineering for a year before settling into the business management program halfway through his undergraduate experience.

“I started in computer science because I liked working with IT in high school. It ended up being very different from what I was anticipating,” Jaylen explains. “When I left engineering, I thought, ‘I need something that’s me.’ And at the end of the day, I just like helping people. So being where I am now with business is perfect… I’ll always have the option to go into [human resources] or another business role that will suit me and my interpersonal skills,” he shares.

It surely was a winding road — with 18 credits per semester until graduation — but one that Jaylen greeted with dedication, grit, and gratitude. He thinks back to the support of his classmates, and how his new professors encouraged him to thrive. “Being at the [College of Business] has been great. I came in as a second-semester sophomore, but had a community of students that I knew and could talk to — and supportive professors,” Jaylen says. “That’s a key part of Valpo, really. The professors want you to succeed and really work with you to make sure you get everything you need. You have smaller class sizes that give you a one-on-one connection with your actual professor, and not a teaching assistant who might not know the content as well. They’re always there for you, and have made it a great experience for me,” he shares.

On top of switching majors, Jaylen wasted no time getting involved in Valpo’s vibrant student community. He’s a member of the Delta Sigma Phi business fraternity, a member of Valpo’s chapter of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, was recently inducted into the Omicron Delta Kappa leadership honorary, worked in the Harre Union as a student engagement ambassador, and played a large role in both Dance Marathon and the TEDxValparaisoUniversity program committee. He also gained ample experience pursuing his dream basketball officiating career, which was inspired by his time serving as an intramural referee here at Valpo. As a recent graduate, he’s already gotten experience refereeing high school, middle school, and elementary school games over the last two years; this upcoming year, he’ll be breaking onto the varsity scene and eventually hopes to bring his skillset to the collegiate level. With a master of business administration and graduate assistantship in the cards, we’re excited to watch Jaylen continue to flourish.

Valpo graduate Jaylen Jude '24 smiling for the camera with his hands in his pockets on the beach at night, with greenery, hammocks, lounge chairs, and string lights in the background.

Despite how far he’s come and how far he has yet to go, Jaylen humbly credits his success to those who have stood by him through it all — from his first taste of college during the height of the pandemic, to when he crossed the finish line at Commencement just three days ago. “You need to find the people who value you. Find them and cherish every moment you have with them. Those are the ones who are going to stick around forever. It’s not just a college friendship; they’ve all become part of my family,” he shares. He specifically names two close friends who have had transformative impacts on his life at Valpo and beyond, as well as Carrie Whittier ’16 MBA, Ph.D., assistant vice president for student life. “I think most students on other campuses would say their administration is not visible. They’re there, but they don’t really know who they are. Valpo’s administration makes a point to help the students. They have time for you, and [will always invite you in to talk] – like Carrie,” he shares.

We are so proud of all Jaylen has accomplished and wish him the very best as he treks forward into his chosen career path. We hope that he and every graduate from the Class of 2024 take pride in their shared resilience, serving as beacons of light on our campus and in the world.

Jaylen Jude '24 smiling at the camera in professional attire.