Daily News photo/ALY GIBSON Graduates smiled wide during their processional march to the Charles O. Zollar gymnasium where Southwestern Michigan College’s graduation ceremony was held Saturday.

Archived Story

SMC grads make history

Published 4:05pm Sunday, May 6, 2012

Dan Alden was excited to walk across stage on Saturday. He wasn’t performing for a crowd or giving a speech, though; he was accepting a diploma.

“This is really awesome,” Alden said, standing amidst other graduates zipping up gowns and adjusting tassels.

Fellow graduate Zachary Harner agreed, stating that today they were making history, and in fact, they were.

Southwestern Michigan College saw the largest graduating class in the school’s 46-year history Saturday, handing over 527 associate degrees and certifications to 447 students. The commencement ceremony also conferred 25 bachelor’s degrees to Ferris State University students in the gymnasium of the Charles O. Zollar Building at the Dowagiac campus.

“Not only is this gratifying (to see so many graduate), but it’s making many realize that so many people needed this alternative,” President David Mathews said.

The alternatives that Southwestern Michigan College (SMC) offered meant that local students could kick start their college careers without struggling to fund a four-year university price tag. Mathews said that this fact is one of the many reasons SMC’s enrollment rates have been steadily inclining, which led to the biggest graduating class so far.

“The changes that we’ve made as a community college, with on-campus student housing, more student life activities and more learning opportunities, has given us the feel of a small liberal arts college,” Mathews said.

Alden, who received his associate’s degree in science and plans to attend University of Michigan in the fall, agreed.

“It’s really taking off,” he said. “One of the biggest reasons I liked it here was because of the great campus experience.”

Kayla Matheny, who also received her associate’s degree in science and will be attending Western Michigan University in the fall, said she was able to better prepare for university campus life more easily at SMC.

“It’s allowing me to grow,” Matheny said. “I got the dorm experience and the smaller class sizes, which I think is what drew so many of us (graduates) to SMC.”

For some, the day felt bittersweet and rewarding all at once.

“It was three years ago today that I lost my sight,” graduate Allen Hood said. “Because of being able to achieve this today, I’m going on to get my master’s degree in social work and get back what was taken from me.”

Hood graduated with his associate’s in liberal arts and will be receiving his bachelor’s degree in human services through Bethel College.

Karla Dennis, who became a licensed practical nurse Saturday, was excited to cross the stage with her fellow nursing students. She wasn’t deterred at all by the abnormally large class size.

“It’s a privilege really,” she said. “Bring it on.”

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