Maddie Van Beek, an accomplished NDSU distance runner, was at an Iowa track meet in April when she received a life-changing phone call. Her fiancé, Daryl, had been diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer.
The diagnosis and following treatment quickly refocused their priorities.
“I honestly let go of a lot of stress,” Van Beek said. “I find myself not worrying so much about the day-to-day things. I would rather appreciate each day for what it’s worth. Be present and enjoy the people you surround yourself with.”
The NDSU senior majoring in English education will share a message of overcoming adversity and appreciating each day as speaker during winter commencement, scheduled for Friday, Dec. 19, at 3 p.m., in Festival Concert Hall. The ceremony, one of three to be held that day, will be for undergraduate candidates from the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; College of Human Development and Education; and College of Science and Mathematics.
Van Beek got married in July. Her husband’s tumor was removed shortly thereafter. He has been given a clean bill of health, but the series of events gave Van Beek a fresh outlook on life.
She plans on using that perspective in her career as an English teacher and she urges her classmates to do the same.
The self-described “geeky kid” who always read while walking down her school hallways has been student teaching at area middle and high schools. She is focused on helping teens who will be first-generation college students. She urges them to think for themselves and become their own advocates in life.
“I want to impact and help others, especially kids who don’t have the support at home,” she said.
Van Beek has made an impact outside the classroom as well. She is a member of the NDSU women’s cross country and track teams, and holds school records for the steeplechase and indoor 5K. She credits her teammates for pushing her on the track and for helping her through the cancer diagnosis and treatment.
“Working with my teammates is inspiring,” Van Beek said. “It’s a daily refueling in a way.”
Van Beek was named to the Capital One Academic All-District and second-team Academic All-American teams for her cross country, indoor track and outdoor track seasons. She was the Most Valuable Player at the 2013 Summit League Indoor Track Championship.
Van Beek plans to use her newfound perspective on life as she completes her track and field career this spring. She’s using the extra semester to complete a second major in English.
Van Beek was a representative on the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and a member of Blue Key National Honor Society, where she volunteered at TNT Kids Fitness, Dorothy Day Food Pantry and a fundraising event for Fargo-based Homeward Animal Shelter.
“I’ve grown so much because of everything that has been available to me at NDSU,” Van Beek said. “I’m always going to have a heart toward NDSU for how much it’s helped me, from my connections with coaches, teammates, professors and to being able to grow as an educator and person.”
Information about the NDSU commencement ceremony is available at www.ndsu.edu/commencement. The event will be streamed live, with an archive video available the week following the ceremony.