Commencement is a beginning, not a conclusion. That’s the message Brooke Feikert and Andrew Staats shared with more than 400 cap-and-gown-clad listeners and a crowd of 2,200 spectators this morning in the 91st annual graduation ceremony at Garden City Community College.
Staats, an engineering physics major from Garden City, and Feikert, an economics major from Wichita, served as keynote speakers, after being selected in a campus competition open to the graduates.
“When we were five, our mothers said we must learn to ride a bike,” said Staats, a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and Academic Excellence Challenge Team, as well as president of the Science Club.
“When we were six, our teachers said we must learn to read,” he continued. “At every age, we were challenged to learn, challenged to discover the individual talents God gave each of us. Now that we are older, we see again and again that our challenge of life is simply to commence, to begin.”
“Beginnings can be terrifying,” he added. “Stepping into a world that is unfamiliar and dangerous, whether it be college, work, parenthood, or any other path set before us, is often just that -- terrifying. However, today we can all rejoice because in our journeys, we are armed with the tools that have gotten us here today. These tools include our experiences, what each of us keeps safely between our ears; and most certainly, our diplomas, which prove that we have slaved through early morning classes, exhaustingly long labs, endless lectures; and as our degrees show, we occasionally know what we’re talking about.”
“Because of these tools, we are not just ending our journeys and careers as students here at our grand old Garden City Community College,” Staats told the class, “but we are beginning once more, because from here, we can go anywhere.” He asked fellow graduates to reflect on the time they’ve devoted to learning, and recognize the value of their own work and determination. He also suggested that they remember the help they’ve received from instructors, tutors, counselors, advisors, and each other.
“All of these efforts have been put forward for us so that we may have a shot at future scholarships,” he said, “or so that one day we will qualify for a career that will fulfill our life’s ambitions.”
“Today is our day to go anywhere, and to begin our new journey toward the next chapter of our lives,” said Feikert, also a PTK scholar, as well as a member of the GCCC Women’s Soccer Team.
“When we started this journey, most of us had graduated high school and moved away from our families and friends to start a new life and begin a new chapter,” she explained to the capacity crowd of 2,400. “Most of us did not know many people when we initially moved here, which forced us to step out of our normal element and make new lasting friendships. At first we considered these people strangers, but within weeks they became a family away from home. Living, eating every meal, and, for some of us, spending all sports seasons together tied many bonds that will last forever.”
She cited “unforgettable memories,” both positive and negative, and recalled the loss that she and others felt with the unexpected death in December of DeVaughn Levy, a student from Denver.
“Through these times we have celebrated victories in support of our sports teams, gathered at homecoming bonfires, attended SGA sponsored events, and, most of all, passed classes to make it here to this day, Feikert said.
“These moments,” she concluded, “have prepared us for this next chapter, which we are all eager to embark on as we unite to be the 91st graduating class at Garden City Community College.”
Degrees And Certificates
The college awarded approximately 320 associate in arts, science, applied science or general studies degrees, as well as certificates in practical nursing and cosmetology, during the ceremony at the Dennis Perryman Athletic Complex. In addition, approximately 90 men and women earned GED diplomas after completing studies at the GCCC Adult Learning Center.
The procession of students was led by graduates who belong to GCCC’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for students at community colleges. The line also included faculty and professional staff personnel, who wore academic regalia and joined with the crowd in applauding and cheering the graduates.
PTK members among the ranks of the graduates wore gold-colored stoles. There were nearly 50 individuals wearing gold cords, designating their status as high honor students, and more than 70 others recognized as honor graduates. Natira Mullett, one of the high honors graduates, is engaged to be married to Staats.
In addition to the student speakers, there were remarks from Kevin Brungardt, dean of academics, and Dr. William S. Clifford, MD, chairman of the GCCC Board of Trustees.
“This is your day to celebrate,” Clifford told the graduates, advising them to take risks and chances, and not be afraid to fail. As examples, he cited Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, Emily Dickinson, Walt Disney, Oprah Winfrey and the creators of Harry Potter and Microsoft, all of whom overcame initial failures en route to success.
“This is a great day for education in Southwest Kansas,” Brungardt said. He told the class members they would be the judges of GCCC’s success, through the achievements in their lives. He also quoted GCCC’s official mission statement, which refers to producing positive contributors to society and the economy.
Putting on a graduation cap and gown, he said, should be a source of pride, since it is essentially a way of saying “Hey world, look what I did.”
Local graduates include: Larned- Aaron Joshua Hopkins and Justin R. Skelton; Lyons- Samantha Miller; Odin- Luke William Miller.