President Gerald Brouder addresses graduates in two ceremonies
Nearly 500 students participated in two separate Columbia College commencement ceremonies May 9, the first at noon and the second at 3:30 p.m. in the college's Southwell Gymnasium Complex. This year's number was well above 2008's mark of just over 400 students.
The first ceremony honored Day Campus students from the main campus in Columbia, Mo., and Evening Campus, Online Campus and Nationwide Campus students receiving associate or master's degrees. The 3:30 p.m. ceremony honored baccalaureate degree candidates from the college's adult higher education venues (Evening Campus, Online Campus and Nationwide Campuses).
Dr. Gerald Brouder, president of Columbia College, addressed the graduates at both ceremonies with an exhortation not to fear change. "It is our great hope that having been educated at Columbia College, you have learned to adapt to change, an inevitability," said Brouder. "To fear change is to squander opportunity."
Brouder went on to say that there probably were visionaries who would improve the human condition among the graduates, but warned against what he called "the arrogance of credential": "The fact that you have earned a college degree does not necessarily make you better than those who may never have the opportunity, it just makes you a bit different. That fact obligates us to share our new knowledge to do what we can to shine a light into the caves of ignorance … Sharing your new knowledge will have an exponential benefit."
Excelling in CSI
Of the 430 bachelor's degrees awarded, some in forensic science or criminal justice, were several students who graduated with CSI certificates, new this year. This certificate requires graduates to document and analyze simulated crime scenes. Forensic science and criminal justice are two of the college's s most popular majors.
Of this year's students, 125 or an astounding 23 percent graduated with honors, including 30 magna cum laude and 32 summa cum laude graduates.
"This very high percentage speaks volumes about the quality of both Columbia College students and faculty," said Dr. Terry Smith, executive vice president and dean for academic affairs. "I am especially proud of our honors graduates because there is no grade inflation at Columbia College. Our honors graduates have excelled, and they have done so in rigorous courses with high academic expectations."
The day began with more than 100 graduates in the Ivy Chain ceremony, one of the oldest commencement ceremonies in the United States, 9:30 a.m. on a dewy Bass Commons. The ceremony features a continuous chain of ivy-draped seniors walking through Rogers Gate to form a circle on Bass Commons. Specially designated graduates called ivy cutters then cut the ivy from each person, signifying that although now separate from Columbia College and classmates, graduates will always remain a part of Columbia College. Each participant also received three long-stem red roses with notes to give to people who had a significant impact on the Ivy Chain participant's college career.
Cutting the ivy
This years' cutters were Erika Harrington, Megan Cram, Erin McCaffrey, Kacey Miller, Lindsey Moore and Megan Struemph, all representing the main campus; and business administration candidates Mark Hammel of Lake County, Ill. and Veronica Thompson, Fort Drum, N.Y., who won the honor to represent the college's 35 nationwide and its online campus.
Both Hammel and Thompson are working adults: Hammel, who works for Lake County Press in Waukegan, Ill., graduated Summa Cum Laude (one of 32 to so graduate) and Thompson was recently discharged from the Army as an E-4 specialist.
Hammel said showing up for class each evening after a full day's work took dedication, and not just on his part: "I also understand the sacrifices my loved ones had to make."
Hammel added that the knowledge and skills he acquired through Columbia College boosted his workplace success; a process he created last year yielded over $1,548,400 in sales for his firm.
Thompson went to Columbia College for a whole lot more than workplace advancement.
"My journey to completing my bachelor's degree has not been easy," she said.
"Growing up, the odds were stacked against me. I came from a poor Mexican background and the only expectations for my life and future were to drop out of school after I turned 15 and become a mother, not necessarily a married one, either. I did drop out, and became the statistic I always dreaded I would be."
But Thompson was determined to do something with her life and earned first a GED then joined the U.S. Army National Guard for workplace experience and a college degree. She then met her husband and started a family; as a full-time mother and full-time Army specialist for the next 15 years, completing a degree seemed impossible. But Thompson did not give up, and her dream became a reality in upstate New York at the college's Fort Drum campus. And she doesn't want to stop with a baccalaureate:
"My struggles make me an example to my children and family back home in Texas. It shows them hard work does pay off! I am the first on both my mom's and dad's family to go this far."
The family that graduates together...
Several graduates are family members, such as Alisa McNeely, who graduated with a master's degree in criminal justice from the Online Campus, and her brother, Stacy Lairmore, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in general studies with minors in criminal justice and psychology.
"It took more than 10 years to get this degree!" said Lairmore, who now works for the Missouri Department of Corrections in Fulton, Mo. but also worked 90-hour-a-week jobs, including running his own restaurant in Fulton. "I started and quit multiple times, but I made it!"
"I am so proud of my brother," says McNeely, who flew in from Arizona with her military servicemember husband and daughter especially for his graduation. The siblings add that Lairmore's graduation also was a family accomplishment; Lairmore is the last of four children to earn a postsecondary degree.
"I encourage everyone I work with to go to school," Lairmore said. "I just wish I had done it at 20, not 40! I sometimes found it difficult to compete with younger students." Lairmore says he wound up with a 3.43 GPA but wanted an A. "It was the algebra that bit me."