To Tarleton State University senior Nicholas Belsher, it’s all about family.

He grew up and went to high school in Ferris, a small community straddling Dallas and Ellis counties. He loved to camp, hunt and fish with his family.

In fact, when it came time to choose a college, family was a vital aspect of his choice.

“I came from a school that graduated just about 160 kids, so I wasn’t eager to go to a giant university,” he said. “I like the small hometown feel of Tarleton.”

His comfort level translated into a successful academic career that culminates with his graduation and a degree in wildlife sustainability and ecosystem sciences.

He will deliver the commencement address to his fellow graduates from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at 1 p.m. Friday.

Not surprisingly, his speech is about the importance of family.

“Here at Tarleton, it feels like one big family. The faculty make you feel almost like they’re your parents. They grow to love you and want to see you succeed. You really feel like you have a home here.”

Belsher, who has been a fixture on the Dean’s List since arriving on campus, earned the speaking gig as the department’s outstanding graduate. He also served as president of the Tarleton Chapter of the Wildlife Society and received the Houston Safari Club Scholarship.

“Growing up like I did, I grew to love the outdoors, and that fostered a passion I have to conserve our natural resources,” he said. “To do my part in conservation.”

That personal responsibility has driven him to work in the Department of Wildlife, Sustainability and Ecosystem Sciences with an eye toward a master’s degree and his dream job of working as a biologist with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

He has accepted a position as research technician on a project at Kansas State University while he shops for an assistantship to begin his graduate work.

“Tarleton has really allowed me to get important experience,” he said. “Tarleton really strives to push students to get hands-on experience in your field, to do more than just make the grades in the classroom.”

Some of Belsher’s favorite collegiate experiences came from a Study Abroad opportunity that took him to South Africa.

“It opened my eyes to a new culture and new ideas. I saw a little of what it looks like outside our little box of America. How other people are living. We had a layover in London and got to see the city. Now I want to see more of Europe and go to Australia. Traveling is a big goal of mine.”

But for a few more days, it’s still about his Tarleton family.

“I love Tarleton,” he said, “but I’m really excited to see what the future holds.”