Dowagiac grad delivers commencement speech at SMC graduation

Published 2:56 pm Wednesday, May 4, 2022

DOWAGIAC — Two Latina women spoke on behalf of Southwestern Michigan College’s Class of 2022 April 30 at 55th Commencement ceremonies for 347 students in the theatre of the Dale A. Lyons Building on SMC’s Dowagiac campus. 

Leticia Marquez, of Sister Lakes, addressed the School of Arts and Sciences Saturday morning, while Miranda Gonzalez, of Constantine, spoke to the Schools of Business, Advanced Technology and Nursing and Health Services Saturday afternoon. 

Born in Sebastian, Texas, Marquez is a 2020 Dowagiac Union High School graduate and the oldest of seven children – two of whom also attend SMC. Marquez aspires to be a physician.   

Already a phlebotomist, Marquez is the first member of her family to attain an associate degree. President of the local Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) chapter of the international honor society for two-year colleges, she belonged to the SMC Honors Program, Alpha Kappa Omega Bible Club and the Communications Interest Group. She was an Orientation and Welcome Week leader, an Educational Talent Search mentor and transfers to the University of Michigan. 

“Growing up in an Hispanic household of nine, college was not a subject that came up, although education was consistently seen as a ticket out of poverty and rigorous, lifelong physical labor,” Marquez said. “Higher education beyond high school was unmentioned due to the fact my parents never received high-school diplomas.” 

As the daughter of retired migrant farm workers, Marquez said her and her siblings were taught the power of education by their parents. 

“When I studied late at night in the kitchen, they would say, ‘Stay focused. Study hard, so you don’t struggle in life like us,’” she said. “In high school, I challenged myself to take dual-enrolled classes at SMC. Once I decided to pursue a career in medicine, I knew how to get a head start. I attended SMC because I felt a sense of belonging.” 

Marquez said there have been times when she was overwhelmed by the language barrier.  

“My educational career since Head Start was a hectic roller coaster with constant identity crises,” she said. “I tried to differentiate Spanish and English to the point I became voiceless.” 

 She credited her tenacity and determination as a student to her success, and encouraged other  

“Have a positive mindset,” Marquez said. “You don’t have to be the smartest in your class or the best at your occupation to succeed. Asking for help is not a weakness, but a strength. When we face setbacks, we learn more of our potential, and savor our success more after hardships.” 

Gonzalez, originally from Akron, Ohio, moved to Michigan with her husband, Pedro. In addition to completing her Associate of Applied Science degree in information technology networking, she enters her senior year at Ferris State University this fall. She worked for SMC’s IT department help desk and interned with Spectrum Health-Lakeland and Danum Inc. She received a Michigan Council of Women in Technology scholarship and also belongs to PTK. 

“I’m excited to be living at a time when we’re watching innovations unfold,” Gonzalez said. “As a woman and a Latina, I have every opportunity to engage in that world.” 

Gonzalez said she followed a less than traditional path, getting her GED in her mid-20s while working in service and manufacturing industries. 

“There have been times along the way when I questioned whether I belonged here, whether I was capable and whether I had what it took to finish,” she said. “I’ve concluded that it’s not some outside voice that answers those questions for us. We find our truth, instead, in decisions we make each day to get back up and try new, difficult things that will take us where we want to go.” 

Her speech focused on encouraging fellow students. 

“I know each of you has your own unique story of how you arrived at this moment of accomplishment,” Gonzalez said. “Some recently graduated from high school. Some, like me, are returning students. You’ve had individual classroom a-ha moments and life a-ha moments, and for different reasons at different times, may have pushed through doubt and discouragement. Only you know the full story of the road that brought you here. … My hope for each of us is that we recognize not only the superpower of each of our individual experiences and ideas, but the power we generate when we bring those experiences together.” 

Provost Dr. David Fleming announced six students graduated with all A’s, AnnaLynn Renae Waterman of Niles, Kayla Farrow of Coloma, Erin Gould of Granger, Reagan Hartman of Union, Kaitlyn Kalling of Niles and Brittany Phillips of Bridgman. 

“Whether you’re transferring or going right into your careers, what you have begun here can take you anywhere,” said SMC President Dr. Joe Odenwald. “You’re a Roadrunner for life. You’re always welcome back on campus for academic, arts and athletic events. Stay connected as an alum so we can build the next generation of Roadrunners. You have my word that we’re working daily to enhance the value of your degree.” 

Board of Trustees Chairman Thomas Jerdon thanked “the SMC staff, faculty and administrators for another year of dedication to student success — especially during the challenging times of the last year.” 

Jerdon introduced board members who have collectively devoted 120 years of combined service to SMC, including Secretary Beth Cripe, Treasurer Becky Moore and Trustees Dr. Elaine Foster, Tracy Hertsel and Bill White.