Melissa Martinez-Cuen was the first OSU branch campus student to be chosen as a student speaker. She addressed the largest graduating class in university history as OSU awarded a record 12,213 degrees and certificates.
Melissa Martinez-Cuen was the first OSU branch campus student to be chosen as a student speaker. She addressed the largest graduating class in university history as OSU awarded a record 12,213 degrees and certificates.


Enthusiastic, hard-working, articulate, talented, confident. These are the adjectives which were a common thread in conversations describing recent Ohio State University graduate Melissa Martinez-Cuen.

Martinez-Cuen was one of over 12,000 graduates to receive a diploma on May 5 at the “Shoe,” Ohio Stadium, on Ohio State University’s main campus in Columbus. For each of those 12,000 students, it was undoubtedly a moment they will always remember. For Martinez-Cuen, it was the culmination of a journey that began seven years ago in a little town in Jalisco, Mexico.

Melissa Martinez-Cuen’s father was transferred to Paulding from Jalisco for work in the summer of 2012, bringing his wife and two daughters with him. Living in a foreign country with no knowledge of the language, 15-year-old Melissa and her younger sister learned English quickly that summer out of necessity and survival.

Their mother took them to the library in Paulding to get books in English that they had already read in Spanish. They also spent time every day walking their dog, pointing out everyday items along the way, and learning the English names.

Martinez-Cuen said her Spanish to English dictionary was a lifeline for her in those early months.

That fall, Melissa enrolled in Paulding Exempted Village High School for her sophomore year. She immediately immersed herself in school activities, joining musicals and plays, as well as cross country and track.

She says her teachers were very helpful, guiding her as much as they were able. The school did not have much experience with international, English as Second Language (ESL) students, so there were not many resources built in. However, school staff assisted her along the way.

After high school, Martinez-Cuen decided to attend Ohio State University-Lima and study early childhood education. While at OSU-Lima, she continued her path of excellence. She immediately engaged fully with her college and local community. The list of activities and groups she was part of over the next four years is staggering.

Dr. Meggie Young, associate professor of music and the director of the Honors Program at the Lima Branch, has known Melissa for three years.

“She was an active member of the Honors Program. She has found so many different ways to immerse herself into the fabric of our campus. She is one of the most exuberant and authentic individuals I’ve ever met,” said Dr. Young.

Young stated that Melissa held a full course load, several extracurricular activities, service projects and volunteered as a language tutor in the community. “She is always looking out for the greater good.”

Dr. Young is not the only member of the OSU-Lima faculty who speaks highly of Martinez-Cuen. Dr. Joe Brandesky, former interim dean and professor, first met her at a scholarship event where she was a student speaker.

He indicated, “Melissa articulated very well the importance of receiving a college education and how to give back. She is talented, skilled and sees the things that need to be done to specifically help the children in this area. She has great presence, great tact, and the ability to make herself heard.”

The current dean, Dr. Tim Rehner, has only been at the Lima Branch since April 1, but he, too, has been impacted by Martinez-Cuen. “I met her recently at an event and met her whole family. She was clearly composed and confident.”

Not only did Martinez-Cuen make an impression in her four years at the Lima Branch, as well as in the community, but she also made history at commencement. She became the first OSU-Lima student to be chosen as a student speaker.

She initially saw an email for those graduating students interested in speaking at commencement. It piqued her interest, so she filled out the application, not knowing it wasn’t allowed for branch campus students. When she was notified that she was not eligible as a branch student, she simply questioned why, since students are always told they are one university.

“I was really hoping to get it changed for future students. Instead, I was invited to apply. I made it through the application round, auditioned and read a speech to them, and was selected,” stated Martinez-Cuen.

Dr. Rehner was present at commencement, and said Melissa was poised and prepared on the podium.

“I am confident she will be able to serve others as she’s been served. She is a wonderful representative of what we do. She is the transformation of higher education.”

Dr. Brandesky concurred. “Her speech represented her; giving full credit to everyone around her – her family, her town, her fellow students, the university. She felt accepted.”

Martinez-Cuen has no plans to slow down. After a little vacation to Mexico to visit some family and friends this summer, she has a classroom to prepare. She will be teaching third grade this fall at Ottawa-Glandorf school. On a recent trip to New York with the Honors Program students from OSU-Lima, she was already thinking ahead, purchasing books for her classroom and looking at exhibits with thoughts on how to transform them into lessons for her future students.

“She will handle her new job like a pro. She’s already planning what she wants to do. She will thrive just as she has with everything else in her life,” stated Dr. Young.

Dr. Brandesky couldn’t agree more. “I would be happy to have a child in her classroom. They would get a full-value education. She is fully present in the moment.”

Perhaps Martinez-Cuen’s greatest attribute is her humility. Reflecting on the past seven years, she indicated, “[I] worked so hard and was still 10 steps behind everyone else and my parents saw that. They were always so supportive and saw me through. They have seen how far I have come. I’m very grateful to everyone in Paulding, OSU-Lima, Ottoville, Ottawa, and everyone who has helped me get to where I am today. Anyone can work hard, but having great support makes all the difference.”