Class of 2018: Wallace State celebrates 52nd commencement

By: ,

Trevoris Waugh was one of six members of the Wallace State basketball team to graduate Friday night. He is also a published poet.

HANCEVILLE – Wallace State Community College and President Dr. Vicki Karolewics celebrated the college’s 52nd commencement at Tom Drake Coliseum Friday.  More than 700 students participated in the ceremony, a record by most estimates, while approximately 1,400 will have earned degrees or certificates this year.

“Congratulations graduates! You made it,” said Karolewics. “Your story began at Wallace State, and tonight we celebrate your story, and we excitedly anticipate tomorrow as we watch your story continue to unfold.”

Karolewics recognized several local officials and special guests at the ceremony as well as platform guest Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman, who brought greetings to the audience.  “Tonight is a big night,” he said. “Tonight, you are opening the door to opportunity. You are opening the door to success…not only for your success, but for the success of those around you, your children and your family.”

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.

In her remarks, Karolewics shared the following stories of the night’s graduates, who embody the richness, diversity and dreams of the students Wallace State serves:

Morelia Tinajero
Morelia Tinajero was named the Student Support Services Student of the Year.  Of the eight members of her family, she is the first to graduate from college. Morelia is 21, and she graduates tonight with two degrees in business administration and paralegal. She is an honor student who is transferring to Athens State University to earn a baccalaureate degree, and she plans to continue to law school to attain her goal of becoming an immigration lawyer. She dreams of making a difference in the lives of those immigrants who dream of becoming citizens of the United States just as her father did. After immigrating to America, Morelia’s father earned his citizenship in 2012. Morelia said that graduation tonight will be emotional for her family. She acknowledges the many sacrifices her mother and father made for her to have a college education and how proud they are of her being the first to graduate from college. She hopes that one day she can watch as her dad graduates from college.

Trevoris Waugh
Trevoris Waugh is one of six members of the Wallace State basketball team to graduate tonight and he is also a published poet! Tre was born in Miami, Florida. Despite the reputation Miami has for being violent at times, Tre enjoyed a happy and blessed childhood, and he began writing poetry when he was only 11 years old. Trevoris was raised by his great grandmother who cared for him, his sister and his cousins. At the age of 12, Trevoris moved with his grandfather to have a positive and strong male figure and influence in his life.  Before coming to Wallace State, Tre penned a collection of poems dedicated to his great grandmother and focusing on topics of fear, ambition, pain and compassion entitled “Blessed: Dedicated to My Truest Thoughts and Feelings.”  Tre’s book was released in print last year, and I bought one of the first copies. Tre is continuing his basketball career as he transfers to the university as a business major.

Fast Track graduates
These gifted and ambitious students are graduating with their associate degrees and certificates tonight, and they will receive their high school diplomas next week.  As students in the Fast Track Academy, these ambitious students started their college journey as high school juniors, completing their junior and senior years of high school as college students on Wallace State’s campus. They have bright futures ahead of them and tonight they also have a total $1.7 million in scholarships awaiting them as they continue their studies at the universities to which they are transferring.

Allied Health and Nursing graduates
During the last few days, each of these graduates has been pinned in a symbolic pinning ceremony for their chosen profession.  Wallace State has absolutely the most outstanding health programs anywhere in the United States, boasting licensure and registry rates that exceed the national average.  If you have a need for medical care, you will be in great hands to be cared for by a Wallace State graduate.  They are in great demand in the workforce and the majority of these graduates already have jobs.

Diane Wood
After two decades of juggling different jobs and being laid off, Diane Wood decided to take a leap of faith and enrolled in Wallace State’s Academy of Culinary Arts at the young age of 45. It was a wise decision! Diane graduates tonight with a degree in culinary arts after becoming the first Wallace State Culinary student to be named Student of the Year by the Alabama Chapter of the American Culinary Federation (ACF). Diane said she is thankful to have taken advantage of the door that opened due to a layoff. Culinary Arts always interested her, and it has turned into her passion and something she wants to do for the rest of her life.  Diane said that because she has never truly graduated from anything before, tonight is going to be extra special.

Paul Knetter
Paul embodies the very definition of a student-leader. This highly decorated 4.0 GPA entrepreneurship graduate is representing several organizations on campus tonight. First, let’s talk about the Scholars’ Bowl Team.  Paul is member of the most accomplished scholars’ bowl team in the college’s history. This team has won back-to-back state championships and finished eighth at the national tournament with a 58-2 record overall. He is also the president of our Rotaract Club. Under Paul’s leadership as president, that group has grown to more than 60 members. But that is not all; he is involved in the Phi Theta Kappa honor society as well as the English and math honor societies, and all while helping to run his family’s roofing business.  His scholars’ bowl sponsor said that on the way back from tournaments, especially after the storms this spring, Paul was often taking calls, scheduling jobs, placing orders and more while on the road–without ever breaking stride. Paul’s outstanding work ethic exemplifies the very qualities we strive to instill in our students.

Cassandra and Justin Vanderau
For Justin and Cassandra, graduation is more than an academic milestone. It is the anniversary of the day they met five years ago. Their first few years together were filled with hard times, hard life lessons. The birth of their son provided urgency for change, and they knew education would be key. Justin started to school first, majoring in engineering, but with only one salary, the new family was unable to keep up financially. Before long, they lost their apartment. A loving family took them in while they tried to better themselves. But the miracle of a second child brought new realization that they needed to speed up their plans. Justin, who was a year into the engineering program at UAH, was inspired and encouraged by his wife’s budding, yet timid, interest in engineering. When Cassandra paid a visit to Wallace State’s engineering technology program, Justin came along for moral support. After talking with instructors, not only had Cassandra found the confidence to pursue this dream, but Justin was so sold on the program that he enrolled, too. Tonight, they graduate together, just as they started. They both already have amazing jobs in their chosen field, two beautiful children, and their own home! And both plan to pursue engineering at the university level within the next year.

Kenya Relief volunteers
Last September, Wallace State’s Dental Hygiene students embarked on an international service-learning trip to Kenya where they worked as part of a global health outreach team providing dental care to scores of patients, many of whom were receiving dental care for the first time in their lives.  Elizabeth Vinson, Jenny Barber, Drakken James, Casie Hall, and Donna Flores went as part of Wallace State’s first group. In April, a team of Wallace State Physical Therapist Assistant students comprised our second team. Corina Bloodworth, Deanna Hay, Emaleigh Parker, Spencer Plunkett, and Mason Wood distributed personal energy transport vehicles, which are hand-powered carts, to polio-stricken individuals whose physical disabilities prohibited them from walking. Imagine for a moment how it feels for them to have served a woman who crawled into the Kenya Relief compound with flip flops on her hands. After they fitted her with a cart, she pedaled away, never to crawl on her hands again. All of these students have been changed through their gift of service to others.

Special presentations were made to Paul Knetter of Gardendale, a business entrepreneurship graduate, for the Presidential Award for Academic Excellence; to Maci Key of Hayden, a machining graduate, for the Presidential Award for Technical Excellence; and to Carrie Ward of Hartselle, a nursing graduate, for the Presidential Award for Health Excellence. These awards go to students of superior achievement in each area and are the highest academic honors presented at graduation.

Jennifer Hill, interim dean of students, gave special recognition to students who were wearing medals and pins received during the college’s Honors Night for program excellence, leadership and service, and recognized members of Phi Theta Kappa national honor society, Sigma Kappa Delta English honorary society, Mu Alpha Theta mathematics honorary society, Kappa Beta Delta business honor society, state SkillsUSA medalists and other honor graduates with GPAs of at least 3.5 or higher. She also recognized veterans in the student body and in the audience.

Music was provided by the Wallace State Concert Choir and Symphonic Band. Fine and Performing Arts students Duke Cleghorn and Eli Parker sang “Found Tonight” for the audience.

Maci Key and Paul Knetter offered the invocation and benediction.

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