Two women address SMC’s 54th commencements

DOWAGIAC — Two women graduating at different stages in their lives spoke at Southwestern Michigan College’s 54th Commencements May 14-15 in Alumni Plaza on the Dowagiac campus.

Their stories intersected when they talk about SMC’s impact.

Saturday’s speaker, Brenna Lewis, of Niles, is a traditional-aged graduate in a non-traditional field for women, welding.

Lewis plans to complete a robotics associate degree in 2022. She started at SMC as a dual-enrolled student junior year at Edwardsburg High School. Lewis received the Lewis Cass Intermediate School District Career/Technical Education Scholarship, an SMC Presidential Scholarship, an SMC Advanced Technology Talent Scholarship and a Futures for Frontliners state scholarship, graduating debt-free.

“We students have struggled a great deal because of COVID,” Lewis said. “We truly appreciate the support shown to us, but I have a question for my fellow graduates. At the beginning of your college career, did you know exactly what you wanted to do for the rest of your life? Most of our answers are going to be no, and that’s perfectly normal. In fact, we still may not know where we want to go.

“In high school, not knowing always stressed me out. I would hear students talk about what they were going to study in college and their dream jobs, but I was clueless. All I knew was that I wanted to go to school for something fun and interesting, therefore helping me avoid a job I’d hate going to for the rest of my life.”

SMC “really came through” her, Lewis said.

“The variety of programs and courses gave me a better grasp of my future, and I’m sure many of you can say the same,” she said. “My choice to attend SMC as a dual-enrolled high school student was a leap of faith, especially since I chose the welding program. It sounded interesting and fit my hands-on learning style. Because I knew so little when I first started my classes, the instructor had to come into the booth with me because I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. All of the instructors made sure that we understood something completely and we were able to do it comfortably throughout the semesters. Many classes later, my understanding has greatly increased. SMC made it possible for us to grow and learn so much more about our fields of study. Through SMC’s welding program, my world expanded. I became exposed to the robotics program, which I will be pursuing this fall. Based on my own experience, SMC instructors have been successful at helping us prepare for life beyond this campus.”

Friday’s speaker, Virginia Martynowicz, of Cassopolis, a psychology major who was president of Psi Beta, that discipline’s honors society, is a mother of four who plans to transfer to Central Michigan University for her psychology bachelor’s degree and, ultimately, a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling. She earned a Cass County Community Policing scholarship.

“If you asked me two years ago where I thought I’d be,” Martynowicz said, “I would never have guessed standing here in front of you. SMC not only changed my life, it has also given me more confidence in myself. If I’m honest, I love this person that I am. I love the SMC me who knows her capabilities, her strengths and who can accomplish whatever she sets her mind to. I would not be me without SMC.”

“When I started at SMC I was terrified,” Martynowicz said. “I did what I always do. I doubted myself and my abilities. I sat in my car for 20 minutes mustering up the nerve to come in and register for classes. Doing so has been one of the best decisions of my life. I met the most wonderful people and had the most amazing experiences.”

Despite her fear when she first arrived, Martynowicz said the care SMC professors have for their students got her through.

“I realized I have special life experiences to offer. I was just a stay-at-home mom with no confidence in her capability,” she said. “I stand here before you as a first-generation college graduate with confidence and strength in her higher education journey. I can never thank you enough for the gift of not only knowledge, but experience, generosity and care. Because of all of you, I’m an inspiration to my children. Even when it was not easy, I persisted.”

Vice President of Instruction Dr. David Fleming acknowledged five students graduating with all A’s from the classes of 2019-20 and 2020-21 — Taylor Masse, Colby Ogrin, Anaya Roschyk, Creed Roschyk and Julian Hicks.

“I want to thank SMC’s staff, faculty and administrators for another year of dedication to student success — especially during the many challenges we experienced in the last year,” Board of Trustees Chairman Thomas F. Jerdon said.

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