Top of the Morning, May 10, 2014

Brittany Hart figured Graduation Day at Eastern Illinois would involve mingling with family and friends.

Not speaking to about 1,500 people stuffed inside Lantz Arena.

But that's what the college senior from Sullivan will do at 9 this morning in Charleston.

"Honestly, I don't think anything has been as nervewracking as this," she said. "I'm used to speaking in front of groups of about 20-30 people. Over 1,000 people is quite a big difference from that."

At Illinois, a famous astronaut will address the senior class next weekend. EIU went a much younger and less publicized route — but just as clever — with its Student Commencement Speaker Series that debuted in the fall. Hart is first up, representing the College of Sciences. Her essay — "Experiencing EIU" — should take about five minutes. But she could talk all day about her time on campus.

"Eastern has been great," she said.

Hart, too. A three-sport athlete at Sullivan High, the future speech pathologist was chosen from an impressive pool of candidates to speak at commencement. Criteria just to be considered included at least a 3.25 grade-point average and the submission of a self-written essay.

Neither was an issue for Hart, who will remain at EIU for two more years to work on her master's.

"I was pretty shocked. I didn't expect to be chosen as the speaker for the fact that the College of Sciences is made up of such a large group of students," she said. "This is definitely something I will never forget."

That's the idea.

And not just because of the plaque and honorarium Hart will receive for her efforts.

"What seems to excite them the most is the opportunity to share their EIU experience with others," EIU spokesperson Vicki Shaw-Woodard said. "They've had a great time here and they want others to know about it."

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