SMSU grads ‘write their own story’

University celebrates graduating class of 2024

Political science major Ashton Ayres was called out of a crowd of SMSU graduates on Saturday, to be recognized as the recipient of this year’s Outstanding Senior Award. The award was presented as part of SMSU’s 56th annual commencement ceremonies. More than 500 SMSU students received graduate and undergraduate degrees on Saturday.

MARSHALL — It was a day for Southwest Minnesota State University graduates to celebrate their accomplishments. But it was also a time to look toward the future, speakers at SMSU commencement ceremonies said.

“My message to you is to write your own story,” SMSU alumna Cheri Beranek told graduates at Saturday’s commencement. “Some chapters may have more action than others. Some will have tears of sadness, and others will have tears of joy. Each chapter can be genuine, if you allow it to be. You will make good choices, and you will make mistakes. But you never know what life is going to throw at you.”

More than 500 SMSU students received undergraduate or graduate degrees this spring. Graduates’ family members, friends and supporters gathered at the SMSU R/A Facility to cheer them on.

“This is truly a special day in the life of our university, and I’m so pleased to celebrate this milestone reached by our graduates,” said SMSU President Kumara Jayasuriya. Jayasuriya said new graduates would always be part of the Mustang family, and encouraged them to stay in touch. “We call that Mustangs For Life,” he said.

In the moments leading up to commencement on Saturday morning, SMSU graduates were sharing conversations – and even some snacks – with classmates as they got ready.

One group of students getting degrees in education said they were “pretty excited” to be graduating.

“It’s a ride,” Genaro Perez said of graduating. Perez, who is originally from California, was receiving his undergraduate degree in physical education. Perez said he had positive experiences at SMSU, including being part of athletics.

“I played on the wheelchair basketball team all five years,” he said. “It was great.”

Hannah Colbert, an elementary education major from Westbrook, was looking to the future at graduation. She had decorated her cap with a quote: “Perhaps you were made for a time such as this.” Colbert said the quote, taken from the book of Esther, was inspiring to her as she prepared to go into a career field that fewer college grads were entering.

Commencement speakers said the class of 2024 had overcome hardships to get to graduation, like starting their college journeys during the isolation of the COVID pandemic.

“All of us have been put in a situation where people expect us to lower our guard, to fold, to bend and to break. But you did not. You put your best foot forward, and kept trudging through,” SMSU Student Association President Samuel Lund told graduates.

But there were still challenges ahead and lessons to learn, Beranek said during her keynote speech. Beranek, a graduate of the Southwest State University class of 1985, and current CEO of fiber optic supplier Clearfield, Inc., spoke about some of the lessons she learned in college and in the workforce.

“What did I learn during my journey? The first thing was to remember your foundation, your roots. I never tried to be anything that I wasn’t,” Beranek said. She also encouraged graduates to be humble, to listen to others, to ask for help when needed, and to be ready to make adjustments to meet their goals.

“Be sure to demonstrate patient tenacity. Be diligent about your goals – but don’t be a jerk about it,” she said.

Beranek said she wanted to leave graduates with a quote from Leo Buscaglia: “Life is uncharted territory. It reveals its story one moment at a time.”

“While life is not scripted, only you have the power to write it,” Beranek told graduates. “So go out and grab that power, and write your own story.”


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