SMC hosts virtual graduation

DOWAGIAC — “Resilience is in the DNA of Southwestern Michigan College,” President Dr. Joe Odenwald proclaimed June 13 during Southwestern Michigan College’s first virtual commencement ceremony in 53 years of graduations.

In his first commencement as the eighth president of the college, Odenwald acknowledged that a virtual ceremony was not expected.

“This is not how any of us imagined celebrating the hard work of our graduates, but it’s out of the spirit of resilience that we celebrate you. Disrupted in mid-March, you pressed on with the help of Michigan’s most dedicated faculty and staff. From our infancy, we’ve been counted out and underestimated,” Odenwald said. “In 1963, a consultant told the late Dr. Fred Mathews that a Cass County community college just wasn’t feasible, but here we are. In the 1970s, under the leadership of Coach Ron Gunn, cross country national championships put us on the map. In the early 2000s, our rates of student success distinguished us. Many times, we have been among the very best two-year colleges in the nation. A decade ago we carved out a new identity with the addition of residence halls, which extended the opportunity for students from within and without the district to have the full college experience.”

During the ceremony, Vice President of Instruction Dr. David Fleming recognized 10 students graduating with perfect 4.0 grade-point averages, Caitlyn Renee Bogunia, Mackenzie Kyle Eagle, Joshua Allen Fuller, Valerie Noelle Hanley, William Kyle Kelly, Hannah Marie McIntyre, Anaya J. Roschyk, Jennifer Lynn Roupe, Gabriel John Sergio and Faith N. White.

Andrew Churchill represented Ferris State University, which conferred 35 bachelor’s degrees in accountancy, business administration, computer information technology, criminal justice and human resource management.

Director of Choral Activities David Carew sang the national anthem and directed a Select Voices sextet for SMC’s alma mater, “Here’s to Thee, Our SMC,” and the timely “No One is Alone” from Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

Replacing “the gauntlet,” the tunnel faculty form as graduates file out of the Charles O. Zollar Building gymnasium, were instructors in Zoom boxes offering encouraging messages.

In his speech, Odenwald said some people said hosting a virtual ceremony would be crazy, but he ultimately felt it was right for his students.

“Graduates, I believe you will leave us with this spirit of resilience,” Odenwald said. “At SMC, you’ve benefited not only from the knowledge and skills you’ve learned from our faculty, you have been inculcated with the idea you can achieve almost anything with unwavering hard work. Maybe completing your studies and graduating in this way is more a blessing than it is an inconvenience, for it demonstrates you can adapt and persevere, no matter the circumstances.”

Student speaker Anaya Roschyk, of Granger, daughter of two engineers, admitted the “proverbial head-strong teenager refused to follow in my parent’s footsteps and study the sciences. Music was my everything. There was no way anyone could change my mind.”

However, SMC did change her mind, and she said she was happy to have attended and to be a part of the unique graduation.

“This celebration we’re having today is a perfect example of the wonders that emerge through creative perseverance,” Roschyk said. “It would be incredibly easy for us to wallow in all that we lost. It is not a path any of us wanted to set foot on. However, much like Chem 100, no amount of begging, shouting or screaming will make this inevitability disappear. Instead, we chose to use creativity, perseverance, patience, determination and sheer grit to find the beauty hidden inside this time of chaos. When conflicts arise, it is imperative we look to our history. Walt Disney, fired for lacking creativity. Vincent van Gogh selling one painting before his death to his brother. Albert Einstein told he was too stupid to amount to anything. When faced with great obstacles, they found the creative perseverance necessary to discover an alternate route to achieve success.”