At Saturday’s Illinois Valley Community College commencement, Dr. Holly Novak challenged graduates to “continue to be open, search, dream and pay attention.”
“You are the future. It will be your generation to hopefully save our environment, protect the truth, battle misinformation, protect our democracy,” Dr. Novak said, adding, “Work for social justice, racial justice, economic equality and gender equality.”
An estimated 190 graduates participated in the 56th annual ceremony in the gym.
A 1974 IVCC graduate, Novak went on to major in biology at the University of Illinois before medical school at Southern Illinois University. Today she specializes in heart disease prevention and women’s health at HSHS Medical Group Multispecialty Care in Springfield.
She is one of the most significant donors in IVCC’s history.
“IVCC has been very important to me and it is a school that I love. My connection to IVCC is more than education, my family history dates back much further,” she told graduates.
Novak’s parents, Bill and Bernadine, met at IVCC predecessor LPO Junior College and were the school’s homecoming King and Queen in 1940.
“In 1940, only 3.8% of college students were women. My parents’ class had 99 graduates and 32 were women. That was 10 times the national average. I really want you to appreciate this accomplishment. This small college was so far ahead because it is committed to the community and education.”
Novak credited the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin — and Title IX for prohibiting sex-based discrimination in schools or educational programs receiving federal funding.
“These laws changed our world,” Novak said. “We followed our dreams, breaking ceilings, stepping out of boxes. We had no sense of entitlement; we had passion for our dreams. We charged forth, with no path to follow, so we made our own paths. And it worked.”
She reserved special praise for her father.
“My father, a history teacher and the legendary football coach, Bill Novak, was also the best father ever; he did not put any limits on the dreams of his children.”
Novak said she always wanted to become a physician and her sister Kim a veterinarian.
“He did not tell us this was impossible. Rather, he supported and encouraged. How lucky I am to have been part of a family that supported education for women.”
She closed by urging graduates to be bold.
“Don’t wait for someone to show you the way. Follow your own dreams! As you go through life, don’t lose the wonder of the miracles that surround you. Go after your goals and dreams and enjoy the journey.”