Friday marked the end of a chapter for the 352 graduates who were recognized at Northeastern Junior College’s 80th annual commencement ceremony.
As has become a tradition in the past couple of years, two ceremonies were held in the Bank of Colorado Event Center to avoid overcrowding. Both started with the graduates proceeding into the event center to the traditional “Pomp and Circumstance” performed by the NJC Concert Band under the direction of Lee Lippstrew.
Leading students into the ceremony were Faculty/Staff Marshal Amanda Kerker and Alumni Mace Bearer Bob Plank, from the class of 1952.
Following a performance of the “National Anthem” by the NJC Contemporary Choir, under the direction of Celeste Delgado-Pelton and an invocation by graduates Gracie Day and Sloane Bishop, NJC President Mike White gave the welcome.
“This is a significant milestone and I’m sure it will be one of many for these amazing young men and women. The college journey presents many challenges that can be unique to every learner. Students are asked to stretch and grow their knowledge and critical thinking while balancing many demands on their attention. Each of our students can likely describe that time when it appeared to be too much and yet, they persevered and that is what’s so special about our celebration today,” he said.
“Graduation is truly a remarkable accomplishment and you have earned it, so walk with your head high as you come across the stage today,” White told the graduates. “We are so proud of each of you and wish you the best as you continue your life journey.”
Graduates also heard remarks from State Board of Community Colleges and Occupational Education member Cathy Shull, who spoke about some of the famous individuals who got their start at a community college, including Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, Walt Disney and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb. Other community college alumni have gone on to become a transplant surgeon, a female space shuttle commander, state governors and a Speaker of the House for the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Education is the first step in a long process of personal growth, the compassion, courage and critical thinking you developed here will serve you well as you face the tough issues of our world today,” Shull told the graduates.
“Remember to treasure the gift you have given yourself, your education. Keep your eyes open to the world around you, inspire those around you, show them the good that can come from a great education, show them above all else that they can do it too,” she said to the graduates, telling them to “never stop learning and as your education begins to open doors for you, know that you have it within you to do what it takes to make the world a better place.”
After her remarks, the graduates heard from Associated Student Government President Phillip Ruch, who gave a shout-out to the softball team who missed Friday’s ceremony as they were competing in the Plains District Tournament after winning the Region IX Tournament. A special ceremony was held for the team before they left.
Ruch spoke about his growth at NJC and the two types of growth he’s experienced – growing up and filling out. Growing up pertains to learning new skills and honing one’s abilities, while filling out, though still growing, “represents the experiences we had along the way and the connections we’ve built.”
“Both growing up and filling out provide purpose and shape the people you all have become,” he told the graduates.
Ruch talked about attending his first Agriculture Department barbecue at NJC; it was the first time that he felt he was a part of a greater community at the college. That day his fellow students made sure he was dressed in appropriate cowboy attire.
“Each of us filled out in our own way, but it was our community that helped define our experience here in Sterling, Colorado,” he said. “As we walk across this stage and away from our NJC community, I encourage you to look back on the life you built here, the friends you have made and the content you’ve learned, whether it was inside the classroom or outside in the world around us. NJC was more than a place to get an education, but the home of the Plainsmen community.”
Following his speech, Ruch invited his fellow ASG officers Joao Fonseca and Audrey Glynn to present the Joel Mack Award, which goes to outstanding teachers selected by the student body, to Emily Barkey, agriculture business management professor; Justina McCracken, biology professor; and Lee Lippstrew, instrumental and music recording professor.
Next, the students heard from Mark Kokes, president of the NJC Alumni Association, who noted “NJC has been and continues to be the place where you great people get your start.” He encouraged the graduates to continue their association with NJC by joining the Alumni Association and asked them to remember the great experiences they’ve had at NJC, share about the college with others and in the future, help other students through the sponsorship program.
“Above all, always remember, once a Plainsmen, always a Plainsmen,” Kokes said.
Later, White recognized several student award winners. The Charles F. Poole Award, given to scholastic class leaders who attend only NJC and continuously contribute to campus life, went to Joao Fonseca, from Brazil, Annalise, from Iliff; Denim Lister, from Jensen, Utah; and Faith Trenkle, from Merino.
Additionally, the Armilda R. Dowis Award, given to an outstanding graduate in an occupational program, went to Cristen Houghton and Tyler Glassburn, both from Sterling.
Following the awards, Sam Soliman, vice president of academic affairs, presented the class of 2023 to President White.
“Today is the goal that you have worked for and it’s also the goal that we have worked for and to see you achieve it…words truly can’t capture that. Your joy is our joy, your success is our success,” he told the graduates, before recognizing the faculty for all of their work.
Students were invited on stage to receive their degrees and /or certificates and after a benediction by Abby Scholz and Zoe Wallerstedt, the new graduates receded out of the gym and on to the next chapter in their lives, as a special version of “Pomp and Circumstance,” arranged and performed by Northeastern alumnus Bowen Brandt, played.