Wallace State celebrates 50th anniversary commencement

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Photo: General Studies graduate Karley Edwards, left and Diesel Technologies graduate Jamie Walker celebrate at the end of the commencement exercises Friday at Wallace State Community College.


HANCEVILLE – Wallace State Community College in Hanceville and President Vicki Hawsey Karolewics celebrated the college’s 50th anniversary commencement at Tom Drake Coliseum Friday.  Approximately 539 students participated in the ceremony, while 1,107 earned degrees or certificates this semester.

"Graduates, as a member of the class that celebrates Wallace State’s 50th anniversary, you are now forever a member of the Wallace State family, and that family connects every graduate from the first Wallace State class to this one and to each class into our future,” said Dr. Karolewics. "You will always have a place at Wallace State."

Karolewics recognized two members of the college’s first graduating class–Gary Hardman, who graduated in drafting, and Regina Griggs Hammond, who graduated in business education the first time, and later came back for degrees in sales and marketing in the 1970s and paralegal in the 1980s. Members of the audience who had previously attended Wallace State were also asked to stand to be recognized.

"Thank you for being part of our history,” Karolewics said.

Gloria Williams received a special 50th Anniversary Outstanding Alumnus Award. CEO of Freedom Insurance, with more than 36 years of agency management experience, Williams is well-known in the community for her service on boards and her spirit of giving back.  She was the first Lifetime Member of the Wallace State Alumni Association, its president for five years, a member of the Wallace State Future Foundation board for six years and established the foundation’s first scholarship for women.

Williams told the audience that two weeks ago she was chosen to be on the Pit Crew for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s car No. 88 at Talladega. "That was the third best thing to happen in my life,” she said — third after marrying her husband and the birth of her daughter — "until I received a call about this award from Dr. Karolewics. Dale Jr. quickly moved to fourth.”

Special guests included Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman, who brought greetings to the audience; Kiah Crider, Wallace State alumnus and Student Government Association president from 2011 to 2012; and Austin Monk, Wallace State alumnus, New Century Scholar and Student Government Association president from 2008 to 2009.

Wallace State has educated hundreds of thousands of students since opening its doors in 1966, and tens of thousands have had degrees conferred. The college produces more graduates than any other institution in the Alabama Community College System and is known for its reputation of excellence as one of the most outstanding community colleges in the nation.

As has become her tradition, Karolewics shared the stories of several students who represent the richness of the community college mission and the student experience at Wallace State. She situated these stories around acclaimed author, Angela Duckworth's, description of “grit” as the characteristic essential to the success of many community college students.  She defines grit as a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal. It involves self-control and stick-to-it-iveness. "Students with grit have had to work, take care of children, scrape together money and transportation, summon self-confidence, attend part-time and so-on to reach the milestone of graduation from college,” said Karolewics, as she shared the following stories:


Josh Butts

Josh graduates from welding tonight. He will probably be on the water tomorrow, fishing first thing in the morning. Josh calls this past year “the most memorable year of his life.”  Not always in a good way, he says, but always in a way that has caused him to learn and to grow. He’s found his passion, and he’s learned about perseverance. Take for instance, his experience in the Carhartt Bassmaster College World Series Tournament. It was an amazing feat to qualify and a dream to have made it there. Reeling from the recent loss of his grandfather — to whom he decided to dedicate the tournament — the night before the tournament, as he was preparing to leave for the pre-dawn start, he discovered his trailer was broken. No problem. He used a little technical ingenuity to replace a wheel bearing. Once on the water, his 1989 Bumble Bee boat “Betsy,” easily the oldest boat participating in the tournament – began to leak. Not to be deterred, he used swimbait to plug the leak. Later, his troll motor malfunctioned. Luckily he had duct tape and zip ties on hand. With the dice stacked against them, Josh and his partner Justin Rivers overcame one problem after another to reel in 42 pounds, 5 ounces of fish, catching the 15-pound limit on the final day and winning the Carhartt Bassmaster College World Series wild card championship. The story of Betsy and the pair’s unlikely success was picked up nationally by Bassmaster media and sponsorships have followed.  Now he has a shot at his dream– a career in professional fishing.  Welding will always be a solid backup (and the hands-on and problem-solving skills he has learned there will surely come in handy). For now, however, he’s decided to take some business courses to understand how to leverage his early success in fishing into a sustainable career. Through the BASS fishing club, Josh has become a student-leader and true ambassador for Wallace State.


Ashley Blankenship

There is no doubt that sheer determination and force of will got Ashley Blankenship to this place tonight, but the fact that she is even alive is a miracle.  Ashley was in a terrible car wreck in 2010, 12 days into the start of her junior year at Hayden High School. She suffered a devastating traumatic brain injury and there were no signs she would ever wake up.  After five weeks in a coma at UAB, the doctors advised her parents to pull the plug. But her parents weren’t ready to give up.  Ashley was transferred to the Sheppard Center in Atlanta, where she remained unconscious for two more weeks. Then, after seven weeks in a coma, she slowly began to wake up!  She was alive, but far from recovered. She started over, re-learning to breathe on her own, to eat, to speak, read, write, walk, learning everything as though from scratch. The Sheppard Center predicted that she might regain 50 percent capacity but they didn’t know what a hard worker she was. By the time she was released, 4.5 months later, she was at 75 percent and still planning to outdo everyone’s expectations.  Because of her drive, she was the only high school student at the Center invited to participate in an intense study habits program aimed at college students, and she was made a member of the State of Alabama’s Leadership Forum for kids who have disabilities but have shown a desire to rise above their circumstances. These young adults are mentored by adult professionals and government leaders who have also lived with disabilities.

Once home, Ashley’s mother Heidi says Ashley “worked like a dog” to make up her junior year while completing her senior year of high school, determined she would finish on time. The significant impairment to her memory has caused her, even now, to have to work much harder than most other students to retain information. She is a member of Phi Theta Kappa and Sigma Kappa Delta honor societies, a member of the Homecoming Court, and has helped with events on campus like the recent Homegrown Music Festival, all while working part-time at Dairy Queen the entire three years she’s been in college. She also campaigned at civic organizations and before any group that would listen to make the Western Blount County Volunteer Fire Department a Fire District, which means the district now has guaranteed funding with some paid firefighters.  Her life was saved by the emergency response service the Volunteer Fire Department provided and she wanted to make sure the community would continue to have that resource as a permanent fixture.

Tonight she graduates in forensic science, with the immediate goal of working as a forensic science technician in a crime lab while completing additional certifications before pursuing a bachelor’s degree. An animal lover to the core, and a dog sitter extraordinaire for the Blount Springs community where she lives, one day she may also pursue her passion to train service animals and police dogs.


Fast Track and Dual Enrollment graduates

Wallace State’s Fast Track Academy continues to increase in popularity, giving high school students the opportunity to earn their high school and college degree simultaneously.  That’s no easy task.  Wallace State has 22 Fast Track seniors graduating this year, earning either an associate’s degree, certificate or short certificate, and 19 of them are here tonight. One student, Winter “Haley” Tankersley, is making history. We are told she is the first high school junior, at least in modern times, to graduate high school one year early.  Haley has also completed all of her general studies courses required for admission into Wallace State’s Diagnostic Medical Sonography program. She’s in the process of completing her observation hours over the next few weeks.

We celebrate Lillian Ross as the only student this year to graduate with a high school diploma and an Associate in Arts and General Studies. She can begin work toward her bachelor’s degree way ahead of her classmates!  After taking a gap year, her focus will be on medicine.

This year also marks the first graduation for our Fast Track for Industry students (Olivia Martinez and Jacob Powell). This is a special partnership with Cullman County Schools where career technical students complete their high school courses on Wallace State’s campus while also completing college course work in a field that leads directly to a career.

This group of students has reported more than $ 1,052,076 million in scholarships and counting!

Samantha Hardisty received $126,512 in scholarship offers and Jacob Washburn received $213,000 in offers.

We are so proud of these hard-working, talented and determined students!  And next year, we look forward to celebrating a similar group of students graduating from our new Fine and Performing Arts Academy, which starts this fall.


Aaron, Preston and Heath Williams

Aaron, Preston and Heath are a set of triplets from Locust Fork, all graduating from Wallace State tonight!  Any time triplets graduate from college together, history is made!  Over the past couple of years, it seems these three have gone everywhere together.  Early on they were commonly seen arriving and departing campus all together in a “mostly-reliable” silver Nissan Sentra. Though now they have upgraded to a Nissan Xterra, they have continued to coordinate schedules as best they could to match their available transportation. While only two members of the trio, Aaron and Preston, are in the Wallace State Concert Band, whereas Heath is graduating from our Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) program, all of the Williams’s brothers are musical.  They are literally a band of brothers—in fact, their country and Southern Gospel band, 3 Times a Lady, can be seen performing many weekends around north Alabama.

This graduation marks a milestone in more ways than one for them. For the first time since elementary school, they won’t all be going to school together. But they are ready for what comes next.  Aaron, who plays saxophone at Wallace State, and is the drummer in their band, is headed to UAB as a double major in music education and music technology. He wants to work for a label in Nashville. Preston, who plays trombone and tuba at Wallace State and bass in their band will major in music education at UAB, and plans to be a band director. Heath, a former trumpet player, plays guitar in the band. He is going to use his HVAC degree to start making money. And he’s already had several job offers. “It’s always been our goal to make people’s day a little better,” Aaron said.  And, by making music together, that won’t change.


Stanley Crawford

Stanley moved from Texas to Alabama in 2012 for a new beginning. Having served two prison terms in Texas on drug charges, he was determined to create a new life. He knew that meant going to college.  But first he needed to graduate high school. So he enrolled in Wallace State’s Adult Education program and graduated with a GED in 2014.  A GED scholarship propelled him into the Wallace State Machine Tool Technology program, and he graduates tonight with multiple credentials – including an associate’s degree, advanced machining and CNC certificates, and an ethics in the workplace certificate. Along the way, Stanley has been a mentor to younger students by sharing his story about the importance of making good decisions, hanging out with the right crowd, and, for him, finding faith and family.  He credits his brother and his brother’s mother-in-law, a special woman he calls “Maw” who has been like a mother to him – with providing the encouragement and support he needed to turn his life around. How many of us have had a figure like her in our lives, without whom we wouldn’t be here?  Stanley points out that the time he has spent bettering himself through higher education is now equal to the time he served, and that is one reason it has been so important to him to stick to it.

Starting over is difficult, but Stanley has not only persevered, he has thrived. He represents not only grit but courage to change. And he represents the hope and opportunity that Wallace State provides so many students. After all, hope is what community colleges are all about and that’s why you see gingko trees being planted all over campus.  They, too, are symbols of hope and we have adopted that tree as a symbol for our college. No doubt, Stanley’s story will provide hope for many who may have thought it impossible to find a way back from a wrong turn. It is not impossible. Let Wallace State be your hope.


Wallace State Softball players

The Wallace State softball team has continued its excellence on and off the field this season, and 12 players graduate tonight. Two weeks ago, the Lady Lions won the program’s second ACCC tournament championship in a row, eighth in 10 seasons, and 10th overall, and they’ll begin play at the NJCAA Division I national tournament on Wednesday. This season’s softball team overcame a lot of early-season adversity and enters the national tournament winning 42 of their last 49 games. The Wallace State sophomore class has been a part of 110 wins, two conference championships and two national tournament appearances. Wallace State softball sophomores are Sarah Ellen Battles, Julia Dailey, Katie Parr, Molli Garcia, Olivia Royal, Shelby Brown, Jennifer Gonzalez, Leisha Yamauchi, Kayla Byrd, Megan Quimby, Ashley Smith and Erin Benson. Congratulations and good luck at nationals. The team also excels in the classroom with each posting high GPAs, including Sarah Ellen Battles.

Sarah Ellen, a Hartselle graduate, has played softball for two seasons at Wallace State and played for the volleyball team as a freshman. Sarah Ellen is an outstanding student, in both Phi Theta Kappa and Sigma Kappa Delta honor societies, and with a 4.0 throughout her career at Wallace State. A second baseman, she hit two homeruns and made the All-Tournament Softball team at the Conference Championship. She has been a leader on the court, on the field and in the classroom.  She is this year’s President’s Cup winner, and will be transferring to Auburn on scholarship.


David Calhoun

There are stories of grit, and then there is David Calhoun.

David Calhoun, the middle child in a blended family of 11 children, has a heart for listening to other people’s problems and a knack for encouraging discussion and dispensing advice. All his life, he says random people have felt compelled to share their problems with him. And that, along with his mohawk and crazy socks, has made him very popular on campus!  He’s popular among instructors, too, because he knows how to get a quiet class engaged in discussion.

David was stolen from the English Department by Enrollment Services to be their work study and he’s been indispensable, helping new students get enrolled and become acquainted with the college. He is the current RA at the men’s dorm, and is active in SGA and Rotaract. For all his efforts, he was presented the Outstanding Service Award at our recent Honors night.

David came to Wallace State after having been accepted to UAB’s joint admission program, but now plans to go on to UNA to major in psychology.  Three guesses what he plans to be.  A life coach/counselor.

His ultimate goal is to come back and work at WSCC.


Special presentations were made to Jeffrey Johns, a Liberal Arts student, for the Presidential Award for Academic Excellence; to Scott Bartlett, an Engineering Technology student, for the Presidential Award for Technical Excellence; and to Shannon Nichols, a Nursing student, for the Presidential Award for Health Excellence. These awards go to students of superior achievement in each area and are the highest honors presented at graduation.

Dr. Tomesa Smith, executive vice president, gave special recognition to students who were wearing medals and pins received during the college’s Honors Night for program excellence, leadership and service, as well as recognized those chosen for Who’s Who in American Junior Colleges, members of Phi Theta Kappa honor society, Sigma Kappa Delta English honor society, Mu Alpha Theta mathematics honor society and honor graduates with GPAs of at least 3.5 or higher. She also recognized veterans in the student body and in the audience.

Student Government Association President John-Anthony Jimenez was also recognized, along with Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley and Winston County Circuit ClerkJ.D. Snoddy. Music was provided by the Wallace State Concert Choir and Symphonic Band. Duke Cleghorn, a choral student, sang a special rendition of “America.”

The Wallace State Coliseum seats approximately 6,000 and was filled to capacity for the event.