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Speaking from experience, Amber Kriech to address fellow students at commencement

May 9, 2017
Amber Kriech receiving her Women's Leadership Award
Amber Kriech received a Women’s Leadership Award at IUPUI March 28.Photo by Liz Kaye, IU Communications

Amber Kriech is being coached for her Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis commencement speech. No one at the university coached her to say this, however:

“One of the things that drew me here was the culture of service and civic engagement, specifically service learning.”

We didn’t request a sound bite to recruit more students or a testimonial to showcase how the Indianapolis campus and community make for a powerhouse combo. But she continued:

“Being able to be a representative of IUPUI, this great university that is very different from a lot of places, kind of ahead of the game – it was really neat to be able to spread that word on a national level.”

All we asked four years ago was for Kriech and her fellow Jags to give us their best.

Kriech was selected from approximately 4,000 IUPUI seniors as the student speaker for their commencement ceremony, to take place Sunday. She will join featured speaker Tamika Catchings, who played her entire 15-year professional basketball career for the Indiana Fever of the WNBA, onstage.

To deliver the address at commencement, the student must have a successful academic record. Kriech will earn her bachelor’s degree, with honors distinction, in organizational leadership and supervision with minors in business and sociology and certificates in technical communication and human resources management – and a history of campus and community involvement.

WNBA star Tamika Catchings during a basketball game
WNBA star Tamika Catchings.Photo courtesy of Tamika Catchings

Tamika Catchings, a superstar on the basketball court and an inspiration in the community, will be the featured speaker at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis’ commencement May 14.

IUPUI Commencement is the university’s official, campuswide commencement ceremony. It will take place at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, May 14, at 1 p.m. The student procession and diploma cover presentation will begin at approximately noon.

Catchings, who earned a master’s degree in sports studies at the University of Tennessee, played her entire 15-year career for the Indiana Fever of the Women’s National Basketball Association, cementing a legacy as one of the greatest women ever to play the game.

“Throughout her career, Tamika Catchings has been an inspiration on and off the court thanks to her performance, her attitude and her positive impact on the community,” IUPUI Chancellor Nasser H. Paydar said. “I am delighted to welcome her to the IUPUI Commencement stage and look forward to all that she will add to this important ceremony in the lives of our students and our campus.”

Tamika Catchings speaking at a podium
Tamika Catchings.Photo courtesy of Tamika Catchings

Catchings led the Indiana Fever to its first championship in 2012, earning the WNBA’s Most Valuable Player honors. A year earlier, she had captured her first regular-season MVP honor. She was named to the WNBA’s All-Decade Team and was named a WNBA All-Star numerous times. She stepped away as a player from professional basketball at the end of the 2016 season.

She continues to empower youth to achieve their dreams through the Catch the Stars Foundation, which she launched in 2004. It provides goal-setting programs that promote literacy, fitness and mentoring.

Catchings started the Catch the Stars Foundation to help disadvantaged youths, saying, “the youth of today are the stars of tomorrow and lack of support results in many never reaching their full potential.”

Her foundation has evolved to empower all youth – not just girls – with programs targeted to them throughout Indianapolis, with a specific emphasis on supporting and assisting youth in underserved and low- to moderate-income communities.

Among its programs, the foundation distributes books, backpacks with school supplies, and yearly college scholarships, and it conducts a mentoring program for kids ages 12 to 16.

In 2015, Catchings was awarded the first ESPN Humanitarian Award, and in 2016 she became the first woman to receive the National Civil Rights Museum Sports Legacy Award.

An autobiography published last year captures Catchings’ own challenges growing up. “Catch a Star: Shining Through Adversity to Become a Champion” tells her story of being set apart by her hearing loss and separation from family, living up to high expectations, and feeling the pain and discouragement of debilitating physical injuries: “She reached for the stars with hard work, perseverance, and her faith in God. Through the silence, she found the way to shine.”

Other recognition for Catchings’ civic engagement include:

  • She was awarded the 2016 Pathfinder Award by Indiana Sports Corp for her commitment to improving the lives of America’s youth.
  • In 2016, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett declared March 22 Tamika Catchings Day, and then-Gov. Mike Pence awarded her the Sagamore of the Wabash, Indiana’s highest civilian honor.
  • She served in 2013 on a mentoring panel at the White House to honor Women’s History Month.
  • She was named by then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to serve on the U.S. Department of State’s Council to Empower Women and Girls Through Sports.
  • She has served as a National Ambassador for the Allstate WBCA Good Works Team, honoring college women’s basketball stars who do good work in their communities.
  • In 2012, she was a spokesperson for Indy’s Super Cure, a community initiative of the Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee to aid in research and donation of healthy breast tissue.
  • She was named an NBA/WNBA ambassador in 2012 for Sanofi’s “Dribble to Stop Diabetes” campaign.
  • She was named in 2012 to serve on the board of trustees of the Women’s Sports Foundation.
  • She appeared with Michelle Obama in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2012 as part of the first lady’s “Let’s Move Tour,” geared toward solving the problem of childhood obesity.

IUPUI’s Commencement is open to all. Tickets are not required.

To separate academics and cocurricular engagement and still reach the same level of achievement would have been impossible for Kriech. It was a concept reinforced by her advisor in the School of Engineering and Technology, Elizabeth Wager.

“The first thing my advisor told me when we met is that this is a leadership degree,” Kriech said. “You take leadership of your degree and make it what you want.”

So over the ensuing four years, Kriech combined classes in global leadership, ethics and project management with leadership positions on campus. She has served as vice president of membership for the Student Organization for Alumni Relations as well as director of entertainment speakers and vice president of external affairs for the Student Activities Programming Board.

Having taken advantage of the RISE program, an initiative that challenges students to include research, international experience, and service and experiential learning in their degree programs, she became a member of its steering committee and encouraged others to do the same.

That’s another theme in Kriech’s career: building opportunities for others to enjoy the same success she has had. She developed two courses at IUPUI, including an upper-level grant-writing class based in part on her experience as a member of the State Farm Youth Advisory Board. In that position, which is what she was recalling when she lauded IUPUI for being ahead of the service-learning game, she helped to award $10 million over two years for youth projects across the U.S. and Canada.

Kriech later created a peer-mentoring program. This effort pairs first-year students in the organizational leadership and supervision program with those at the senior level and alumni.

“A class has come out of that,” she said. “It’s a service-learning course for the leadership team of the peer-mentoring program. It came from my own experience as well as a passion and an understanding of how important that can be for students.

“It’s also what I used for my capstone project, specifically looking at the benefits mentors receive from the experience and how they apply classroom material and develop an understanding of their individual leadership style.”

In the midst of all this, she also studied abroad in Germany, was a 500 Festival Princess in 2016, served as a peer mentor and leader in the IUPUI Honors College, and completed four internships. She’ll add a fifth this summer, developing compensation and benefits processes, while gearing up for graduate school studying medical sociology at IUPUI.

Kriech is a Bepko Scholar, the most prestigious scholarship awarded in the Honors College; a two-time Top 100 honoree; and a recipient of both the William M. Plater Civic Engagement Medallion and Women’s Leadership Award this spring. In 2015, she received the Mayor’s Diversity Award for Youth Service.

The main thing on Kriech’s mind right now, though, is that speech. Unlike most who are about to address thousands of people, she’s not even a little bit nervous. As someone who actually loves public speaking, the opportunity proved too enticing to pass up.

“I think what really caught my attention was being able to represent my department, my school and the university,” she said. It’s kind of three different levels of giving back to this university that has given me so much, as well as the opportunity to give a good message send-off to my fellow graduates.”

Commencement begins at 1 p.m. on May 14 at Lucas Oil Stadium. You can find more information about the ceremony, travel information and watching live online at

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