‘Time to move to new chapter’

Education master’s of science graduate Julie Kupfer enthusiastically raises her diploma high in the air during the recessional at Southwest Minnesota State University’s 49th Annual Commencement on Saturday.

MARSHALL — The 2017 graduates of Southwest Minnesota State University came from diverse walks of life in the pursuit of different dreams, but were joined together because of a shared belief in the power of education.

Of the 669 eligible students, 469 took part in the 49th Annual Commencement on Saturday in the R/A Facility at SMSU.

“We represent a rare group of people in the United States,” said Ashanti Payne, president of the SMSU Student Association. “Not everyone has the access, opportunity and tenacity to be a student, work 30-plus hours a week sometimes, be involved in campus and the community, be an athlete or do some sort of combination of those things in four years.”

Payne said the Census Bureau revealed that only about 21 percent of adults aged 25 and up obtain a bachelor’s degree or high.

“Twenty-one percent, and you will soon be part of that,” Payne said. “To me, that is very impressive. If have any nerves or worries about the future, you shouldn’t. This graduation is just another transition, like so many others in our lives. It’s time to move to a new chapter, but there’s no doubt in my mind that every graduate of this school is ready for that.”

Payne encouraged the graduates to thank their parents and families, many of which were sitting in the stands.

“You’ve all played an intricate role in the lives of each of us,” he said. “You helped shape us into the women and men we are today, and we are super thankful for the love and support from all of you.”

Payne also praised the administration, faculty and staff at SMSU.

“It was your support, your wisdom and your expertise that guided us,” Payne said.

SMSU President Connie Gores acknowledged that commencement marked the beginning of something new as much as it recognizes the end of something familiar.

“For some of you graduates, the path forward is already clear,” Gores said. “For others, it’s a work in progress and you’re still working on what lies ahead. Whatever the case, please know that you are all very well prepared.”

Gores said that she was pleased to help celebrate their successes, congratulate them and welcome them to the company of scholars that connect academic and practical development experiences to southwestern Minnesota and the world.

“In a world where higher education is beyond the reach for many, it’s an honor to be a graduate of such a fine institution as SMSU,” she said. “And graduates, you will be carrying with you our name and reputation, always. We know you’ve worked hard to earn your degrees and you should be very proud of your accomplishments and of the university.”

Keynote speaker Dr. Dene Thomas, a 1978 alumna and president of Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, for the past seven years, suggested the graduates thank their professors, asking them to raise their hands if some of them had made a huge impact on their life.

You had the opportunity to be guided by amazing professors,” Thomas said. “They care about teaching or they wouldn’t come to SMSU. They want to connect with you. They want a personal education for you. They want to challenge you.”

Thomas spoke about her missed opportunity to tell one of her professors — Dr. William Whipple, for whom the art gallery on campus is named after — how much he impacted her life.

“He died in the middle of my fifth class with him,” she said.

Thomas shared some of Whipple’s poetry, including the last line of one of his poems, which serves as a challenge for all of them.

“He wants all of us, in the words of his poem, to escape the feeling of having arrived,” Thomas said. “It’s a strange thought right now because you’re sitting, feeling like you have arrived. And you have. But you also have a challenge ahead of you for the rest of your life — to keep fighting, to keep progressing, to keep learning — and that is something great to think about every day when you wake up.”

Cathy Cowan award recipient Pat Carmody faced that challenge more than 35 years ago, when she graduated from SMSU.

“Thirty-seven years ago, this first-generation college student from Cottonwood, Minnesota, High School graduating class of 39 students, sat where you sit today,” Carmody said. “My education here at SMSU was much like yours. I took some classes from some faculty whose lessons I still carry with me today, and most importantly, I received a great education.”

President Gores noted that the award was given in memory of psychology professor Cathy Cowan.

“Her colleagues established an award to recognize faculty or staff members who have made outstanding contributions to SMSU and to this region,” Gores said.

Carmody stated that she was honored to be chosen and thanked those who inspired her throughout her post-secondary experience as well as throughout the 31 years she’s served as registrar.

“I’ve had great mentors who encouraged me to grow and take on more challenges,” she said. “As the SMSU registrar, It’s been my life’s passion to help students get degrees. To my husband, my daughters, my son-in-law and my SMSU friends, thank you for all the support, for helping me serve the students, the faculty and staff of this great university.”

Jan Loft was also recognized for her contributions.

“She is retiring after a distinguished 29-year career at SMSU,” Gores said. “And while she’s contributed in so many ways, there’s really too many for me to be able to recount here.”

Along with serving as professor of communications studies and later as Dean of College of Arts, Letters and Sciences, Loft has been “the voice” of SMSU.

“Jan has read the names of each graduate to cross the stage since 1995, and no one works harder to prepare in that role as Jan,” Gores said. “She’s had numerous faculty leadership roles over the years, and her understanding of the university and culture, made her a perfect fit to become Dean.”

SMSU Alumni Association President Neal Wahlman presented the Outstanding Senior award to Alex Weis.

“This award goes to a student athlete who has earned All-NSIC academic honors seven times and has made the dean’s list every semester of his college career,” Wahlman said. He’s also a tireless advocate for the hearing impaired, having founded The American Sign Language club on campus and working in numerous roles as an advocate for the hearing impaired. He holds the school record in the indoor and outdoor shot put and hammer throws, is a five-time team field event MVP and twice and overall MVP.”

Weis won the conference shot put in 2016 and will represent the U.S. in Turkey, at the 2017 Deaf Olympics, where he will come in the shot put, discus and hammer throw. He’s graduating with a

K-12 physical education teaching degree, with a developmental adaptive physical education minor.”

Granite Falls native Mariah Weir drew a lot of attention because of the saying on the top of her cap that read: “The best view comes after the hardest climb.” Weir is a graphic design major and marketing minor.

“I feel like I’m not supposed to be graduating,” she said. “I feel really young still. But I”m excited, too, to finally be done and get life started.”

Weir has a good start for the future as she has her own photography business (Signature Stills by Mariah).

“I got my degrees just to enhance that,” Weir said. “I started my business my sophomore year. I do weddings, seniors, families and pets. I don’t have a studio, so it’s just outdoor.”

Weir doesn’t regret her journey and said she was glad she was involved in the dance team for the past four years.

“Being involved with that was a lot of fun,” she said.

Marshall native Jessica Baker was graduating with a double major in elementary education and early childhood special education.

I’ve been applying to multiple different school districts,” Baker said. “I have not chosen anywhere yet. I have some interviews in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska, next week.”

While she said she had been waiting for “this day” for quite awhile, Baker said her experience at SMSU had been “wonderful.”

“I went to USF (University of Sioux Falls, South Dakota) first, and I played volleyball,” she said. “Then I came here for the education program and I’ve absolutely loved it.”

Business major Carrie Juo said she was feeling “excited” for commencement. At a sash ceremony on Friday, Juo received her red sash.

“It represents our country of Taiwan,” Juo said.

As far as future plans, Juo anticipates finding employment.

“I think I will find a job, hopefully in accounting,” she said.

Canby native Tate Citrowske was “feeling pretty good” on his graduation day.

“I’m pretty excited,” he said. “It’s been four years. I started in Brookings and transferred to SMSU my sophomore year and now I’m done.”

Like so many graduates, Tate still has to find a job. He is considering getting 18 more credits, so he can get his CPA, but he’s undecided yet.

“I hope I’ll get a job in accounting, but I have a minor in finance, too, so I could go that way,” Citrowske said. “I hope to stay in the area somewhere. I enjoy it around here and I’m from here.”

Montrose native Leah Danielson, a communications studies broadcasting and digital media major, will also be looking for a job.

“I had a great time in all my classes, but it’s fun to see it come to an end,” she said.

Danielson’s ultimate job is to work for a creative services department, either for a company or news station, producing videos.

“I worked at Studio-1 for two years, so I got a lot of experience,” she said. “I also interned at Schwan’s in their creative services and at WCCO, too, in the summer. That was a lot of fun.”

After commencement, Marshall native Talitha Black said she felt “relieved.”

“It’s been a good experience,” Black said. “I started early. I was a PSEO (post-secondary enrollment options) student. I’m only 20.”

Black plans to take a year off and then look at graduate schools. Eventually, she wants to work at a museum.

“I really like museums,” she said. “I have a double major in English and history. My dream job is with the Smithsonian.”