MCCC holds 57th annual Commencement Ceremony

Graduates walk in at the 57th annual Commencement Ceremony, held May 3. (Photo by Ashley Atkins)
Kennedy Bowling gives a speech at the 57th annual Commencement Ceremony on May 3. (Photo by Ashley Atkins)
Graduates exit after the 57th annual Commencement Ceremony on May 3. (Photo by Ashley Atkins)
Aaron Mason, chair of the Board of Trustees, speaks at the 57th annual Commencement Ceremony on May 3. (Photo by Ashley Atkins)
Crowds gather at the 57th annual Commencement Ceremony on May 3. (Photo by Ashley Atkins)
Riley Burns gives a speech at the 57th annual Commencement Ceremony on May 3. (Photo by Ashley Atkins)
MCCC held its 57th annual Commencement Ceremony on May 3 in the H Building. (Photo by Ashley Atkins)
(From left) Emma Lajiness, Brooklyn Kayson, Lori Jo Couch and Riley Burns outside after Commencement on May 3. (Photo by Mick Valentino)

MCCC’s 57th annual Commencement Ceremony took place 6 p.m. Friday in the H Building. Family and friends of graduates filled the gymnasium’s bleachers until they were both full.  

The graduates filed in with black caps and gowns on. Some wore sashes to show they were honor students, and some wore colorful cords from the divisions they represented. Many graduates decorated their caps with words of encouragement, flowers, designs or glitter.   

Professors filed in wearing black gowns and caps, each wearing sashes of different colors to show the divisions they represented.

Administration, Board of Trustees members and various faculty sat on the stage. 

On the left of the stage was the College/Community Symphony Band, conducted by Mark Felder, and on the right side was the Agora Chorale, led by Jonathan Lunneberg and accompanied by Nancy Honaker.

Dean Kerste, professor of mechanical design technology, was awarded as Honorary Grand Marshal of the ceremony. 

The 2023 Alumnus of the Year Award was presented to David Larkins, who graduated from MCCC in 1980 where he began his formal art education. He received his award for all the volunteer work he has done for the community and for MCCC.

Grace Yackee, vice president of instruction, greeted the graduates and crowd. Yackee introduced each speaker. The usual commendation to the graduates was given, then speeches were delivered by Kennedy Bowling and Riley Burns.  

Ken Mohney, professor of anthropology, introduced Bowling. He said it was an honor to introduce a student who stood out at a time when it was difficult to do so since classes were virtual.

“Kennedy presents herself, shows how seriously she takes her studies, how kindly she treats others,” Mohney said.

Bowling started with well-wishes to her fellow graduates in their future endeavors, then shared thoughts about her speech. 

I’m not going to flatter myself and pretend anything I can think to say to you is outstanding or original,” she said. “I have researched many commencement speeches in preparation for today and the message is fairly clear.” 

Bowling said she was asked to provide her graduating class with advice to carry them through life’s journey. She said she reflected on her journey through MCCC, how she was taught the importance of being flexible and taking responsibility for what she could control, and the grace to let go when necessary.  

Bowling spoke of kindness as a unique gift, and she said kindness possesses a strength in which others may not understand its quality. She said she had seen the lack of kindness on our campus this past year and pointed out that others will remember how someone made them feel.  

She thanked those who had shown her kindness and shared how much it touched her. She thanked those who had not been kind to her for showing her what she did not wish to be. Bowling said by choosing kindness in your life, you can make your own corner of the world brighter.  

Bowling quoted Mister Rogers and said, “There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind, the second way is to be kind, the third way is to be kind.” 

“So – Be kind, not only to others, but to yourself. Be genuine. Be you,” she said.  

Mark Bergmooser, assistant professor of communication, introduced Burns next. He said he met Burns when she was a 6-year-old full of energy and smiles during his children’s self-defense class. When he met her again at 17, she barely smiled at him and whispered a hello. 

He said he knew her story well, even before a profile of her was published in the Agora. Burns then took the stage to give her speech. 

After thanking her family and friends, Burns said while reading her own personal story of how she had grown and changed as both a student and person at MCCC, she was moved by a comment made by Lori Jo Couch, assistant professor of English. 

“I don’t know what it was that made the change in her, but it was amazing to watch her transform,” Couch said.

Burns said when she had written a research assignment on ADHD for Couch’s advanced composition class, Couch made her feel that she was just as invested in her research as she was, and gave Burns the comfort she needed during a difficult time. 

Burns said when she joined the MCCC Writing Center, she found friendship and leadership.

“All it took was one person who saw my potential and encouraged my passions, to completely turn things around,” Burns said. 

She said without those connections to friends and to the community at MCCC, her journey would not have been possible. She said the most powerful thing a person can do for themselves is to engage with those who encourage them and see their potential, and this can influence them to make a lasting change. 

She went on to say not one person in the crowd or sitting on the stage got to where they are today entirely by themselves. She encouraged all to stay connected with people who will encourage their ambitions and see their potential. 

Burns left these final words for her fellow graduates:

“If my journey here at MCCC has taught me one thing, it’s that making connections with others, whether they are temporary or lifelong, helps us become not only more competent students but even better human beings,” Burns said. 

The graduates were then led to the stage to receive their diplomas and were followed with applause from those in attendance.