Tragedy drives Tarleton commencement speaker to career choice

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STEPHENVILLE — A family tragedy steered Alyssa Ruffin toward what she hopes will be her life’s work. She graduates with a degree in child and family studies from Tarleton State University-Waco in 1 p.m. ceremonies Saturday, Dec. 14, at Wisdom Gym in Stephenville.

She also will tell her story as the keynote speaker.

Alyssa started at Dallas Baptist University on a degree plan in camp and support leadership. Then during her freshman year the unthinkable happened.

Her little cousin was diagnosed with brain cancer.

“She passed away at 15 months old,” Alyssa said. “At the hospital, she had a child life specialist. The family talked about how good it was that there was someone they could talk to who was so directed to the child and the family.

“I love children, and after that I knew that I wanted to be a child life specialist in a hospital setting.”

What exactly does a child life specialist do? “Play therapy, trying to normalize the hospital experience for children. I’m wanting to specialize, I think, in oncology and work with children in that area.”

Alyssa was a decorated athlete at Cooper High School in Abilene, earning all-district honors in basketball and volleyball as well as team MVP in both sports. A member of the Honors College at Tarleton, she’s also a musician, playing drums and guitar for the worship band with Tarleton-Waco’s Baptist Student Ministry.

Despite the circumstances that altered her study path, she promises an upbeat commencement address.

“I am going to talk about passion,” she said. “How when you find your passion it can lead to your purpose in life. “

The Abilene Cooper graduate came to Tarleton-Waco when her DBU roommate transferred to the Central Texas campus. What especially drew her to Tarleton was its child life program; she said there was no such program at Dallas Baptist.

“I was in psychology and hoping to work my way into the field with that degree,” she said. “I realized Tarleton had a degree plan with specific coursework in child life. It seems they were more in tune with my career plans and goals.”

To support her passion even further, Alyssa begins studying for her master’s in January at Texas Woman’s University in Denton.


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