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Right choices led to opportunities for IUPUI student commencement speaker Jon Madrigal

Apr 30, 2018
Four smiling students.
Jon Madrigal, second from left, has made serving his peers the centerpiece of his college career. He’ll share his message at commencement May 12.Photo by Liz Kaye, IU Communications

Neo had to make a choice, the red pill or the blue pill, and it changed everything. Whether it’s the Matrix or the real world, choices can have major, lasting impacts. That’s exactly what Jon Madrigal, IUPUI’s commencement student speaker, wants his fellow graduates to think about.

“There are going to be sections in the speech that are going to have them reflect upon choices that they’ve made and choices that they will make. I’ll ask them to always remember that their choices may have had an impact on someone or may have an impact on someone in the future.”

That Madrigal is even at IUPUI and in a position to address the thousands of graduates at commencement May 12 at Lucas Oil Stadium is the product of some of his own key choices.

Choice No. 1: Change of plan

At the end of high school, the Griffith, Indiana, native decided to forgo college, despite having been accepted to IUPUI, in favor of a military career.

“My dad was highly influencing me that college was a good thing. ‘Go and get a degree,’” Madrigal recalled. “But the last couple of months before I graduated high school, the mindset hit me: ‘I don’t think I want to go to college anymore. I don’t think it’s for me.’ I planned on conditioning myself throughout the summer and getting physically fit so that I could enlist right into Air Force boot camp.”

A visit to IUPUI altered his plans.

“It wasn’t until my orientation for IUPUI that it all changed, but I look at that as everything happens for a reason,” said Madrigal, who also applied to Purdue because of his interest in mechanical engineering. “Waiting to decide after orientation, after experiencing the first bit of IUPUI, was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

Choice No. 2: Learn to lead

Madrigal had been thinking about studying engineering, but that also changed when he came to Indianapolis. Still planning on an eventual military career, he enrolled as an exploratory studies major, considered engineering again as well as psychology, briefly declared social work, thought about community health and finally landed on organizational leadership.

“I knew two things. One, I wanted something that had to do with leadership. Two, I wanted something that would benefit me for the military afterward. I came across organizational leadership because it had ‘leadership’ in the name of it,” he said, joking about the obvious. “And, in the list of career opportunities, it said ‘military service.” I read more into it, and I talked to Elizabeth Wager, the advisor for organizational leadership, and the rest is history.”

Choice No. 3: Lead the way

Madrigal has found leadership opportunities in more than just his major. He’s a peer mentor for several offices on campus, including OTEAM, the students who introduce IUPUI’s newest Jaguars to campus every year, as well as with the organizational leadership program and in the School of Engineering and Technology, assisting students on academic probation.

Of those opportunities, he said that applying for OTEAM was one of his best decisions yet.

“One of the things I reflect on is, ‘What would happen if I didn’t take that step forward? If I didn’t step out of my comfort zone to take on these responsibilities?’ I thank OTEAM so much for getting me to step out of my comfort zone,” Madrigal said. “Coming to college was a huge step forward. But I fear what would have happened if I’d never applied for OTEAM and had never been accepted.”

Choice No. 4: Leave a mark

All of his choices up to that point led to this final decision to be commencement speaker. Without the decisions to attend IUPUI, join OTEAM and take advantage of new opportunities placed before him, would Madrigal be speaking at next month’s commencement? Maybe. Maybe not.

“I reflect on it, and I almost can’t believe that I’m the commencement speaker. I don’t look at it as something huge, but then if I really step back and think about it, I’m the commencement speaker for IUPUI!” he said incredulously.

“My friend Lauren told me, ‘You should try that out and see if you have a shot at it. You’d be good for it.’ Ever since I started putting together my application, I was thinking to myself, ‘I really want this.’ What I do, I always do for others. I first saw this as something I wanted to do for myself, but going through this speech, the message that I want to get across is still for others. I want to be able to leave my mark one last time.”

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