Wallace State celebrates 53rd commencement

Students who apprenticed with Kamtek Technologies graduated Friday from Wallace State’s Machine Tool Technology program. They not only get paid for their work while at Kamtek, but they also received tuition assistance and a salary from Kamtek while here in college.

HANCEVILLE, Ala. – Wallace State Community College and President Dr. Vicki Karolewics celebrated the college’s 53rd commencement at Tom Drake Coliseum Friday.  More than 700 students participated in the ceremony, while a record of more than 1,800 will have earned degrees or certificates this year.

“Congratulations graduates,” said Karolewics. “Tonight, we celebrate your success, and we excitedly anticipate tomorrow as we watch your journey continue to unfold.”

Karolewics recognized a number of local officials and special guests at the ceremony as well as guest speaker, Jimmy Baker, chancellor of the Alabama Community College System, who congratulated the graduates.

“Work hard. Work smart. We need you to be successful. This country needs you to be successful. This state needs you to be successful,” Baker said. “Always continue to grow intellectually.”

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 is nationally recognized for its work in student success and for its outstanding graduation rates.

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

Zachary Glenn
“Zachary graduates tonight with an associate degree in general studies, an associate in applied science degree in law enforcement, an associate in applied science degree in forensic investigation, a short-term general education certificate, a short-term certificate in law enforcement, and a short-term certificate in crime scene technician, as well as certifications in finger printing and latent print examinations. If he has not set a record in academic achievement, he is surely close. Zachary, a 2016 Cullman High grad, also earned a SkillsUSA gold medal with two classmates last month in the Crime Scene Investigation competition. And as Zachary has achieved all this success, he’s  also served as Roary, the Wallace State mascot, for two years, providing smiles, fun and support at significant college events and basketball games. Zachary is transferring to Jacksonville State, where he will pursue bachelor and master degrees in criminal justice. Zachary says he is sufficiently prepared for the next step because Wallace State.”

Jerry Lwamba
“Wallace State basketball player Jerry Lwamba has contributed to that team’s outstanding success. The team won the 2019 ACCC North Division regular-season championship, finishing with a 24-7 record, and the sophomores were also a part of the 2017-2018 NJCAA Academic Team of the Year, which had the top GPA in the nation for men’s basketball at 3.48. Jerry is originally from the Congo, and lived in Lubumbashi until he was 17 years old. While in high school, Jerry attended a prospect camp in the Congo, which was hosted by Bismack Biyombo of the Charlotte Hornets. At the camp, Jerry was among select group chosen to earn a path to the United States to play basketball. He played for Mountain Mission School in Virginia before signing with Coach John Meeks and the Wallace State basketball program prior to the 2018 season. Jerry, who graduates tonight with an associate in science degree, can speak four languages: French, Swahili, Lingala and English. Jerry says he is thankful for the two years he played here at Wallace State and for his First Baptist Church family in Cullman. He said he’s going to miss the food at Top of the Town when he continues his basketball career at a university as a business administration or information systems major.”

Mercedes Mitchell
“Mercedes Mitchell graduates tonight from the Polysomnography program. Her journey has not been easy.  Just six months ago she lost her mom and best friend, Cindy, to cancer. Cindy fought for four years, from the time Mercedes was in high school at Russellville, where she was president of her senior class in 2017, until last semester.  Her mom tried her best to fight a few more months to watch her grad­­­­uate. They made a promise that if she didn’t make it, Mercedes would push through the pain and grief to graduate. Cindy wanted to inspire Mercedes to succeed. To never give up. To make something out of herself. To finish what she had started.  Many times, Mercedes felt like quitting but she hung on to the promise she had with her mom.  She took classes online in Florence, while attending clinicals, and came to campus for lab work and tests. She would go home after working clinicals at night to take care of her mom and even stay with her in Birmingham for chemotherapy. Tonight, Mercedes’ Wallace State family cheers her on for being the first in her family to graduate from college and for already working in her field. Just as her mom suggested, though, she will not stop here but is studying for her registry and has plans to pursue another degree.”

Brooke Leigh Sinyard  and Wendy Marlene Sinyard
Wendy Sinyard is the youngest of her five siblings to obtain a college degree.  And tonight, she graduates with her daughter, Brooke Leigh Sinyard.  After having her first child, Wendy went to work in Alabama’s Head Start Early Education program for several years before giving birth to her Brooke and deciding to become a stay at home mom. Years later she decided to homeschool her daughter, which included not only preparing her for college, but  Brooke’s participation as a violinist in the Decatur Youth Symphony. At the end of all the drives from Winston County to Decatur and all of the high school assignments, when it was time for Brooke to graduate from high school, Wendy asked if her daughter would mind if they attended Wallace State together, to which she replied she loved that idea and wouldn’t mind at all. Throughout Wendy’s time at Wallace State, she and her daughter have taken almost all of their classes together, providing each other support in their life goals and helping each other study. After Wendy receives her diploma, she and Brooke, the vocalist for the Wallace State Jazz Band, will be packing their bags to prepare for Wallace State’s Fine and Performing arts tour to Germany and France – a wonderful graduation gift from their husband and father.  It will be their first time on the plane. Wendy’s goal has always been to help her fellow man. She was a caretaker for her father, and now intends to build on her degree and pursue a career in the medical field working with oncology patients. Brooke has been taking dance classes at Wallace State while pursuing her general studies degree. She’s fallen in love again with dance, which she began as a child and left to pursue other interests. She now plans to continue her dance education on pointe at WSCC this summer and to earn her dance pedagogy certificate so that she can teach. Her goal is to work in Dance Medicine. Wendy’s 81 year old mother attended the ceremony to see her daughter and granddaughter graduate, which Wendy said meant everything to her.”

Ashley McClintock, Nicole Stoddard, Melinda Fulford, Holly Smith and Karlye Payne
“These women changed lives, and their lives were changed in Kenya, this year. They were part of a team of six students and two instructors from Wallace State’s Nursing department to participate in the nursing department’s first, and Wallace State health science’s third global health outreach / international service learning project with Kenya Relief, founded by Wallace State Nursing alumnus Steve James. Like everything our National League of Nursing Center of Excellence nursing department does, this group helped to break new ground, conducting the organization’s first remote clinic with a larger Kenya Relief medical mission team in Lake Victoria, where in one day they saw 189 patients. Our students recalled seeing patients walk for miles to reach the clinics for medical care and for water. They witnessed the effects of unclean water on patient health, gained an understanding of the importance of patient education, and saw the manifestation of diseases, like malaria, in patients as well as under a microscope. They also conducted a two-day clinic at Kenya Relief’s Brase Clinic, where they saw an additional 180 patients. But if you ask our nursing team whose lives were impacted more, they would say that any positive impact they made on the people they served was returned tenfold. “I will be a better, more compassionate nurse because of this experience,” one said. “I now understand why life circumstances make it difficult for patients, even here, to be compliant in their treatment regimen,” another said.  “We were met with such love and compassion,” said another, who understood in a deeply personal way the Kenya Relief slogan that we are all one. Each one came back with a broader, deeper, more enlightened view of the world.  And with a desire to do more.  Some are even making plans to return to Kenya again.”

Women in Welding Scholarship Recipients and Kamtek Apprentices
“Three special women graduate from the Wallace State Oneonta campus welding program. Tammy Kelsoe, Caitlyn Green and Allison Morton have each attended Wallace State’s Welding Department thanks to a grant from The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham, which allows single mothers the opportunity to pursue a welding career. The grant helps pay for childcare and living expenses during college. Among these women, Tammy, for example, has four children and didn’t dream going back to college would be possible before this grant. She now wants to open her own mobile welding business—taking repairs to farms and businesses, or wherever they are needed. Allison wants to join her! Caitlyn is just waiting until she graduates tonight before entertaining job offers. Eleven students are graduating from our Kamtek Apprenticeship Program and several are here with us tonight.  Tim Wiggins, Preston Mills, Mike Gormley, William Buzbee, Cedric Jackson, Jr., and DreLaquane Moton are graduating from our Machining Tool and Die program as part of an 8000-hour DOL approved paid apprenticeship program that involved higher education and on-the-job training. Through Kamtek, these students not only are paid for their work while at Kamtek, the are also paid by Kamtek while in school.  They already have a job and are finishing tonight with a certificate and/or a degree.”

Z.J. Blubaugh
“Z.J. Blubaugh is a young man who never liked school. Though he did exceptionally well in school, in the fifth grade, he declared to his teachers that he would not be attending college.  Z.J .wanted to do his work, at his rate, and be done.

“Thankfully, during ninth grade orientation, he and his parents learned about the Hancock Academy. Z.J. would ride to the career center, take their core classes online and attend career tech classes the remainder of the day.  Though encouraged to take an honors course because of his grades, he had never been excited about school before career tech. Then he learned about Fast Track and really hit his stride taking classes with college students, where he found the challenges he needed. During Z.J.’s time at Fast Track he worked various jobs, including one on the Arsenal and an internship at Reliance Worldwide. For much of his time here, he has worked two jobs while attending college. Now he has been offered a fulltime position in industrial maintenance at RWC once his internship ends on the day he graduates from Good Hope, May 25.  He has been a leader and an outstanding representative of the Fast Track program, even speaking to other high schools about the opportunities. Tonight, he graduates from Mechatronics. According to his parents, Z.J. is truly proof that ‘traditional education’ does not suit every student.”

Special presentations were made to Challie Johnson, a General Studies/Business Administration graduate, for the Presidential Award for Academic Excellence; to Blubaugh, a Mechatronics graduate, for the Presidential Award for Technical Excellence; and to Nicole Stoddard, 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.

Dr. Ryan Smith, 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, as well as recognizing 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. He also recognized Veterans in the student body and in the audience.

Music was provided by the Wallace State Concert Choir, Singers, and Symphonic Band. Choir Director Tiffany Richter sang “America” for the audience.

Jordan Freeman and Challie Johnson offered the invocation and benediction.

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

See more photos here: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmDbhUeX