SMC’s 57th commencement graduates 384

Published 10:50 am Tuesday, May 7, 2024

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DOWAGIAC — A nurse and a musician spoke on behalf of Southwestern Michigan College’s Class of 2024 May 4 at 57th Commencement ceremonies outdoors for 384 students in Alumni Plaza on the Dowagiac campus.

Connor Vance of Eau Claire, a trumpet player who aspires to direct bands, addressed the School of Arts and Sciences Saturday morning, while Ashley Minnick of Niles, a cardiac nurse for Corewell Health in St. Joseph, spoke to the Schools of Business, Advanced Technology and Nursing and Health Services Saturday afternoon.

“The tassel’s worth the hassle,” Minnick said. “I come before you on this momentous day filled with joy and appreciation. As we come together to celebrate our accomplishments, I’m incredibly humbled by the path that brought us to this important turning point we have all worked incredibly hard for. Regardless of your choice, whether it be health care, business or another technical field, this degree or certificate represents the work that we have all poured our hearts into and something we are all very proud of.”

“When I think back on all we have accomplished together,” Minnick said, “I can’t help believing that our success has been fueled by our devotion, unrelenting hard work and steadfast determination. Every action we’ve taken and every obstacle we’ve encountered shaped who we are now. I know my family has experienced a rollercoaster of emotions.

“Despite all of the challenges along the way, we’ve overcome them and are now more resilient and determined than before. Although a lot of my words may be lost in time, I want my appreciation for our president and Board of Trustees to last forever,” Minnick said. “Let us strive to improve the world in which we live. We should never stop pursuing knowledge. Let us enter the great unknown with courage and optimism. The future is ours and ripe for the taking. Always believe in your dreams because the future belongs to those who believe in them. May we have happiness, fulfillment and limitless opportunities ahead of us.”

She recognized Stacey Dwyer, Chair Rona Goodrich, Yolanda Roche and Jessica Pethick from the nursing faculty.

Minnick belonged to Phi Theta Kappa honor society and has worked as a registered behavioral therapist for Hopebridge Autism Therapy Center. She plans to further her educational and professional growth by earning her bachelor’s degree and other certifications. The mother of four was motivated by her children during her journey through SMC’s nursing program.

Vance came to SMC from Lakeshore High School. He plans to attend Western Michigan University to continue studying music education to eventually become a high school band director. Vance has been a member of the SMC Jazz Ensemble, Symphonic Band, Collegiate Choir, Choral Scholars, Men’s Ensemble, Pep Band, pit orchestra for musicals and cornet for Brass Band. He coached Watervliet’s marching band brass on its path to its first state championship in 2023.

“Connor has been a fantastic ambassador for SMC,” Director of Bands Mark Hollandsworth said. “He maximized his opportunities here.”

“It’s been an honor to be part of something so special and cared for as the music program curated by Mark Hollandsworth and David Carew, not only two wonderful educators, but two wonderful people. Because of them, I believe anything is possible through discipline and perseverance. I try my best to have this mindset every day,” Vance said.

“Setting high standards for myself helps me make sure I’m consistently making progress to better myself. My time at SMC showed me that results do not come instantly. Reaching goals can often be a slow, difficult process. While it is important to strive for greatness, it’s equally important to acknowledge we are human. There is almost never a straight path to success. As I’ve grown, I’ve learned that accepting my mistakes is just as important to my success as anything else. Changing lives is why I want to pursue education — to give back experiences I’ve had and then some.”

Eighth President Dr. Joe Odenwald noted, “This year marks our 60th anniversary as an institution of higher learning. As I gaze at the graduates, I know our founders had you on their minds when in that summer of ’64 they went to meeting after meeting and door after door asking for support for what would become SMC. They knew a college here would unleash potential for individuals, the community, the great state of Michigan and, ultimately, the world.”

“Our creed as an institution is Knowledge for All,” Odenwald said. “The founders pursued the idea that if a person has a soul, they ought to have a college seat. As a result of their vision and the work of many since, you had a seat. Today, you leave with a degree. Remember, what you’ve achieved here can take you anywhere if you apply it. Thanks for making SMC your college. Now it’s your alma mater. This isn’t goodbye. This is SMC-you-later. Come home often!”

Provost Dr. David Fleming announced Cassandra I. Krieger, Sydney J. Lubinski, Daniel J. Shane, Trevor Ray Zimmerman, Jason K. Becht, Emma Beckman, Madeline Elizabeth Brennan, Owen A. Lingle, Kale Locke Roschyk, Travis Strong and Victoria B. Yates graduated with all A’s.

Board of Trustees Chairman Tom Jerdon, a 1984 SMC graduate serving in his 33rd year and 10th as chairman, introduced Trustees Becky Moore, Dr. Elaine Foster, Skip Dyes, Todd Obren and Vice Chairman Tracy Hertsel.

Of 384 awards, 78 were in Fall 2023, 184 are pending final Spring 2024 grades and 122 are pending final Spring 2024 and/or Summer 2024 grades.