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Class of 2024: Graduate Phillip Derrickson demonstrates perseverance, earns degree after 12 years

May 6, 2024

Phillip Derrickson poses for a portrait, April 25, 2024, on campus at IU South Bend. (Photo by Michael Caterina/Indiana University South Ben When Phillip Derrickson walks across the stage at this year’s commencement ceremony with his bachelor’s degree in physics, it will be the culmination of a journey that started 12 years ago. Through personal ups and downs and professional transitions, Phillip persevered and never quit because it was “too late.”

“I am proud that I didn’t give up. Even when presented with other opportunities, I still wanted to come back to IU South Bend. Something about IUSB, just brings me back home,” said Phillip. “Even at my lowest point, my professors were always willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. They looked for the best in me, even when I didn’t see the best in myself.”

After graduating from Adams High School in 2012, Phillip started that fall at IU South Bend. Right away, he realized he enjoyed physics and selected it as his major the next semester. Unfortunately, he had a rocky experience his first year.

“For the longest time, I wasn’t a good student and didn’t study or take care of things like I was supposed to. I was irresponsible and reckless,” explained Phillip. “I didn’t have any direction.”

After some personal tragedies occurred, Phillip determined he wasn’t in a position to pursue his education and decided to leave the university to join the Marine Corps in 2015 as a member of the reserves, where he was deployed to different parts of the world. After another attempt to return to being a student during his time in the reserves (“I still wasn’t quite there,” he remarked), Phillip came back to campus in the fall of 2021 - nine years after he first enrolled. This time around, however, he was dedicated to earning his degree so he could live the life he wanted for himself.

“My mindset was I had spent all of that time doing everything I knew I didn’t want to do for the rest of my life,” said Phillip. “It made me realize that this was my only option, going back to school. So, I did everything in my power to make sure I could succeed.”

In addition to having a renewed sense of purpose for why he was pursuing a degree, Phillip also decided to fully embrace being involved on campus - and it made a huge difference. He has served as vice president of the Physics Club and the English Club, and helped to restart the Titan Vets program.

“Mostly I have adopted a ‘don’t say no’ attitude. If someone asks me to go to an on-campus event or activity, even if it seems like it’s not really in my wheelhouse, I’ll go see what they’ve got going on,” explained Phillip.

“Being invested is what kept me going the most this third time around. It meant to me I wasn’t just getting lectures and going home. It was coming here, and interacting with other people. My first time around at IUSB, I was in my own world. Now I’ve realized my world is not so little after all.”

After graduating with his bachelor’s in physics, along with four minors: mathematics, earth and space science, history, and creative writing, Phillip’s goal is to earn a PhD in physics and continue in research, whether academic research at a university while teaching or at a national laboratory.

I am excited to take the next steps and I feel like IUSB has prepared me to do what I need to.”

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