North Central Michigan College graduates crossed the stage on Friday, May 13, to receive their degrees and certificates.
And as they crossed, they each had their own personal story of success and triumph.
There were 379 students in this year’s graduating class. That number includes those students who finished back in December, and those who will finish up in July.
The class of 2010-11 was made up of 73 percent women. Also, 73 percent of students worked while attending classes and 38 percent are the first in their family to earn a college degree. Forty percent of those graduating this year plan to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
“This class truly reflects the diversity of learners that attend North Central Michigan College,” said college president, Cameron Brunet-Koch.
North Central graduate and Alanson native, Derek Blumke, addressed the graduating class as the featured speaker.
Blumke graduated from Alanson High School in 1999. He went on to serve six years in the United States Air Force which included three tours in Afghanistan.
After leaving the military, Blumke enrolled at North Central in 2005, and in 2007, was accepted into the University of Michigan where he graduated a year ago.
In 2008, while at the University of Michigan, Blumke co-founded the Student Veterans of America. The organization helps veterans transition to college life. The organization now has 425 chapters across the country, including a chapter at North Central Michigan College.
Blumke spoke of the qualities one needs to be successful. He highlighted the need for service and responsibility, education, determination and passion. He also encouraged students to take chances in life.
“You will never know your capabilities until you test the waters,” Blumke told students. “The question is not what can you do, but what will you do?”
Lisa Beatty of Harbor Springs has the qualities Blumke spoke of. In fact, her determination and passion for education has, in her words, made her a “lifelong learner.”
Beatty, 45, has attended North Central for the last 10 years. She’s studied everything from respiratory care to early childhood education.
But as a single mother who also juggled work, Beatty often had trouble meeting all her course requirements.
On Friday, she received her associate of arts degree.
“I just love it here, I love learning,” Beatty said proudly. “I’ve met a lot of wonderful people and faculty while I’ve been here. I’m excited to continue my education.”
This fall, Beatty plans on returning to North Central to pursue her bachelor’s degree.
“I would like to do something in the medical field or in law enforcement,” Beatty said. “I just like helping people.”
Erica Pennell, 21, also crossed the stage Friday, three years after she began working on her associate of arts degree.
Pennell, who is originally from Cheboygan, chose North Central because it was nearby. Her mother, who owns a small farm, often needs help at home.
“I was really shy when I started here, but not anymore,” Pennell said. “I’ve gotten to know so many people and have grown a lot.”
While at North Central, Pennell served as president of the Hall Council and sang in several school talent competitions.
This fall, she will continue her education at North Central, before transferring to Lake Superior State University in the fall of 2012 to pursue a degree in parks and recreation. She then hopes to enroll in the Peace Corps.
Pennell admitted that she had mixed emotions about Friday’s ceremony. While she was excited to receive her degree, there was someone noticeably absent from her celebration.
“My dad passed away when I was 11 and it’s hard because I wish he was here,” Pennell said. “I didn’t think walking (at graduation) was a big deal, but I’m doing it for my mom and I know my dad would be proud. I am excited, but kind of sad at the same time.”
While students were honored for their successes on Friday, students also honored some faculty members.
Student Senate president, Wade Thomas, 20, who plans to attend Calvin College this fall and major in pre-med, presented awards for the adjunct and full-time faculty members of the year.
Pamela Graves, a biology instructor, received the adjunct professor of the year award, while Kurt Yuengling, an earth science instructor, received the full-time professor of the year award.
The awards are voted on each year by members of Student Senate.