"A different dream": Student Commencement speaker has long, bumpy journey
For some students, the path through college is short, straight and pain-free. That's not how it worked out for Joseph B. Stoney, the mechanical engineering major chosen to be the student speaker at Temple's 126th Commencement Exercises. Stoney was a 23-year-old out of Northeast Philadelphia when he started his Temple journey almost a decade ago. Now, after overcoming a series of obstacles that would have defeated many students, he's ready to become the first person in his family to earn a college degree. As the Temple motto says, Perseverantia Vincit — perseverance conquers.
Temple Times: Your academic career was derailed a few times on the way to graduation. What happened?
Joe Stoney: Before I came to Temple, I was in the Navy. My dream was to be a naval aviator. About five or six years into my naval career, I was on my way. I was accepted into a commissioning program to become a naval officer. The program would send me to any school I wanted on a full scholarship, with flight school to follow. Temple is where I chose to go. But during my flight physical in 2004, just before I left for school, they found out I had testicular cancer. Unfortunately, I was medically disqualified from my flight program and [after being treated] I didn't meet the program's age requirement. My wind was completely taken out of me.
TT: How did that impact your academic career?
JS: I got an Honorable Discharge. I was out of the Navy, but I was still interested in engineering, so I decided to create new dreams and pursue a degree at Temple even though I no longer had the educational benefit from the Navy. But then my parents ended up moving away in 2007. I had been living with them. I just couldn't afford it, and my parents weren't in a position to help me. So I dropped out in spring 2007.
TT: But here you are, about to earn your degree. What happened in between?
JS: I found myself a nice one-bedroom apartment and a job at Home Depot. I found different dreams; I had aspirations of moving up in management. Then I met my fiancée, Sarah, in 2009. It took me meeting Sarah to realize what I wanted to do — and it wasn't Home Depot. I wanted to go back to Temple. I loved taking classes there. I loved my instructors. I returned in 2011 determined, fully-charged and strong-willed.
TT: You'll be representing all Temple students when you speak at Commencement. What do you think makes Temple students different?
JS: Temple students are all about overcoming obstacles, overcoming adversity. My story is not unique. Most students here are making it on their own. Temple students are committed. It's a determination to overcome anything, whether it's financial burdens or the academic competition. We want to be the best. We're all striving. That's a point of pride. But there's also a sense of camaraderie. Everyone is willing to help everyone else out. We're like a family that wants everyone to succeed.
TT: Looking back at your years here, what experiences define your time as a Temple student?
JS: I remember spending my entire first year at Temple on the 6th floor of the Engineering building. There would be 10 or 12 students at a time in the chairs just outside the elevator. I did the Diamond Peer Teacher program, and the realization that I enjoyed helping other people learn started with those times working with students by the elevator. I've also have gotten a lot out of my senior design project. It's part of RockSat [a NASA and Colorado Space Grant Consortium program that prepares students to design payloads for space flight]. We can put together any experiment we want and design it from scratch. This June, we'll be at Wallops Island Flight Facility.
TT: What's next for you?
JS: Another year at Temple! I'm going into the accelerated mechanical engineering master's program, and then I'll go to whatever major golf company wants me. I'm interested in the engineering behind the design of golf equipment.
TT: Graduation is a big milestone for you, but we understand it's not your only major life event this month.
JS: On Friday night, May 3, Sarah and I got engaged. I had working so hard, planning this surprise for her, and it couldn't have worked out any better. It was the most amazing moment in my life.