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Odara Oliveira was introduced to puzzles at a young age as a way to satisfy her natural curiosity. Since then, she has viewed each phase of life as a new one to assemble.

“Every moment spent these last several years is coming together like a perfect puzzle,” said Oliveira as she addressed her fellow graduates at the College of Health Science commencement on Dec. 13. “Every piece fits where it belongs to create a picturesque snapshot of your time at Eastern Kentucky University.” 

Oliveira’s first major puzzle came at the age of 10 when she and her mother moved from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Richmond, Kentucky. 

“This new journey was a whole new array of pieces I needed to figure out,” she said. Thankfully, that transition placed her near EKU. “It all came together leading me to stand here today.” 

Few puzzles, however, come together without some trial and error. Oliveira admitted to trying a few puzzle pieces in the wrong spot during her time at Eastern. Her biggest challenges, she said, included finishing her honors thesis, unexpectedly losing a long-term relationship, and moving away from home to become independent. Eventually, however, the pieces seemed to come together.

“No matter what strategy you used, whether it was laying each piece of your journey on the table and letting your roommates or friends help, Googling your way through, taking it slow and hoping for the best or sitting up all night working on your best path, your masterpiece is complete.”

Oliveira’s masterpiece is a bachelor’s degree in environmental health science with a minor in Spanish. She graduated as an Honors Scholar. As a student, she served as secretary and later president of the Environmental Health Science Club, and was a member of the EKU Marching Colonels; Latino Student Association; Minority Peer Mentor Group; National Scholars Collegiate Honor Society; Sigma Alpha Iota, an all-women professional music fraternity; Epsilon Nu Eta, an honor society for environmental health science majors; and the freshman honor society Alpha Lambda Delta. She also served as a student social media ambassador in the Office of Admissions. 

Soon, Oliveira will begin laying down the pieces of a new masterpiece. In April, she plans to move to Austin, Texas, to begin graduate study in epidemiology at the University of Texas at Austin. She looks forward to the challenges of a career in health care, finding solutions for underserved communities and those affected by the opioid crisis.

Oliveira feels that her new masterpiece, and those of her classmates, will come together more smoothly because of their Eastern experience. 

“If you find yourself trying to put a puzzle piece in the wrong place, remember all the moments you had here and all the strategies you learned,” she said. “When you begin your next puzzle, take a breath and remember what being a Colonel meant to you.”

Watch the full speech below: