International clothing designer Nanette Lepore said she will always feel connected to Youngstown State University.
As an undergraduate student at YSU, Lepore created her own curriculum — a combination of art, business and fashion. She graduated in 1983.
Lepore resides in New York City, but she’ll return to Youngstown to receive an honorary degree and speak at the commencement ceremony on May 19.
“I’m happy to accept the award and have my dad see me accept the award,” Lepore said. “My family, my husband, my husband’s family will all be there. It’s nice to come back to my roots to receive the award with my family.”
Lepore said her upbringing centered on YSU, mainly because her dad taught at YSU for more than 30 years. She remembers being brought to YSU on weekends for events and being surrounded by YSU students all of the time.
The fashion department at YSU is eager for Lepore’s arrival.
“I’m very excited because she was one of the fashion students at YSU. All of our students are very excited about her coming. They know who she is and all of her designs,” said Tachibat Turel, an assistant professor of human ecology.
Alyssa Robbins, a fashion merchandising major, said Lepore is one of her role models.
“It makes YSU look really successful that a national fashion designer got her start at YSU,” Robbins said.
Robbins said she plans to graduate next spring, but wishes that she was graduating this semester so her commencement could be lead by her idol.
“Hopefully, one day when I become successful, I might get a chance to meet her,” Robbins said.
Turel and her fashion students are turning Lepore’s visit into a learning opportunity by creating a design contest.
Students participating in the contest will have their designs judged by Lepore on graduation day.
Fashion merchandising student Sara Cummings is one of the students who will present a design to Lepore. Cummings has participated in many national design competitions, but, for her, nothing measures up to this experience.
“This is, by far, the most nervous I’ve been for a competition,” Cummings said. “Our group can’t wait to show her our talent, but we are anxious because, on the other hand, we don’t know what she’ll think of our work.”
The project was open to students in the fashion merchandising and graphic design departments.
“Our students are very passionate about their designs,” Turel said. “Each product has something from YSU, whether it’s pictures of buildings or YSU colors.”
A few fashion students were paired with one graphic design student to design an item made of old YSU banners.
Three groups are participating in the project, which started at the end of February. Projects were due at the end of April.
Lepore is intrigued to see what the YSU fashion students will come up with.
“I think it’s great to see what the fashion students are doing. I’m excited to be around young people and see some fresh ideas,” Lepore said. “People from Youngstown are spunky, so I think they will have some good ideas.”
Ikram Khawaja, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said Lepore’s arrival at YSU has been anticipated for a while.
Khawaja said the selection process for choosing a commencement speaker to receive an honorary degree is fairly long.
According to the University Guidebook, the board of trustees “grant[s] honorary degrees in recognition of a significant impact on the university; on the community, state, or nation; or on society. Such degrees will be conferred at commencements or at special convocations.”
A senate committee goes through a nomination process, and the people who have been selected by the board of trustees are discussed. The committee then gives the recommendations to the provost, who gives the final approval.
“Some of the nominees selected need less time in advance than others,” Khawaja said. “Lepore has been one of the longer processes. She was contacted a year and a half to two years ago.”
Through her experience, Lepore encourages YSU students to never give up.
“Follow your heart,” Lepore said. “Don’t feel like anything is too much to tackle. Don’t feel defeated.”