- Cullman, Alabama

May 11, 2013

Wallace State celebrates 47th commencement


— Wallace State Community College in Hanceville and President Vicki Hawsey conferred degrees upon approximately 1,000 graduates during Wallace State’s 47th commencement ceremony at Tom Drake Coliseum Friday.  More than 500 participated in the ceremony.

“Graduates, as you conclude this phase of your life’s journey and embark upon the next, we congratulate you and honor each of you tonight for all that you have achieved,” Dr. Hawsey told the Class of 2013.

Hawsey encouraged the group to claim “a life of significance” as defined by John Maxwell. “Success is when we add value to ourselves – through education, achievements, a great job, possessions we acquire, a nice bank account.  Significance, on the other hand, is when we add value to others,” she said. “I challenge you to channel your calling toward adding value to others through your unique ability to serve.”

Wallace State has educated hundreds of thousands of students since opening its doors in 1966, and more than 30,000 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 top 120 community colleges in the nation.

Forty-five percent of students graduating this year were the first in their family to graduate from college.

As has become her tradition, Hawsey shared the stories of several students who represent the richness of the community college mission and the student experience at Wallace State.

Mavon Copeland.  After attending UAH and Wallace State with an eye toward entering healthcare, Mavon realized his true calling was technology and decided to change his major to Electronics.  He started the electronics program in 2011 and spent many extra hours in the lab to master the competencies required to be successful in his field, showing the same level of determination that he devotes to volunteer work with his church.  His instructors say he has exceeded expectations in mastering the highly technical curriculum.  As a result of his hard work, Mavon was one of the first students to interview with Nissan for an Industrial Maintenance Co-op job and scored high enough on their entry exam in his third semester to be accepted into the program. He began co-op work at Nissan in Smyrna, Tennessee in October.  After graduation, Mavon will get married next weekend to Naomi Berkley, a Wallace State alum from the Dental Hygiene program, and begin his career as a full-time maintenance technician at Nissan on May 28.

Min Woo Choi.  Joy and persistence: those are two words that can be used to describe Min Woo Choi. A native of South Korea, Min Woo joined the Wallace State family in 2008, from Sumiton Christian School where he was an international exchange student. His father passed away when he was one year old and his mother raised him alone.  Min Woo’s educational journey has been filled with challenges, including severely impaired vision which makes him unable to drive, so he is seen walking everywhere. In the midst of his Wallace State education, Min Woo had to return home to undergo brain surgery and heart valve replacement, requiring an extended recovery period. Min Woo never gave up on his goal to earn a degree at Wallace State before transferring to a university. He has been accepted into the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and he plans to major in hotel and meeting management.

Clay Duncan.  Clay likes to refer to his Wallace State experience as kismet. Growing up in Charleston, the arts were always part of his life.  Clay especially loved the theatre, and though he began as a performer, he quickly found his niche in stage management, being that key behind-the-scenes person who makes the director’s vision come to life by organizing all aspects of the show down to the finest detail. Clay found stage management work with the internationally acclaimed Spoleto Festival in Charleston. He also did a stint at Disney in Orlando. When his parents retired to Smith Lake, Clay decided it was time to obtain a degree. He opened up the Wallace State schedule, saw an announcement for the Guys and Dolls theatrical production, and the rest, as they say, is history.  Clay became stage manager for that show and has stage managed for the Wallace State Theatre Department ever since. Clay is the recipient of the President’s Community College Transfer Scholarship to the University of Alabama where he will study theatre with a concentration in Technical Direction.  He plans to go on to earn a Master of Fine Arts and teach at the college level.

Abby Bright, Melody Haynes, Yancey York and Shannon Stewart.  Abby, Yancey, Melody, and Shannon are four of our 39 high school Fast Track students who are graduating high school this year.  These 39 high school seniors simultaneously earned high school and college credit while enrolled full-time here on our campus.  These four ambitious young women are a step ahead and will also receive their college degrees tonight and their high school diplomas later this month.  Abby Bright is the youngest of the four children of Dale and Christie Bright to attend Wallace State. Abby is transferring to UAB where she plans to major in exercise science and minor in nutrition. After she graduates from UAB, she plans to continue her education to become a physical therapist. Melody Haynes, daughter of Mike and Sheila Haynes, will be transferring to Mississippi State University to study to become a veterinarian, working toward the dream she’s had since she was five years old. Shannon Stewart is the daughter of Danny Stewart and Sherri Barber.  Shannon is planning a career as a federal probation officer and will transfer to Athens State University to work toward a Bachelor Degree in criminal justice.  Yancey York is the daughter of Dena and Randal York.  With her associate degree in Flight Technology, Yancey will now fly off to Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, where she will work toward her bachelor’s degree in hopes of becoming a corporate pilot or to fly for FedEx or UPS one day.

Wallace State Lady Lions Softball Team.  These ten outstanding young women having just claimed another state championship last week.  With a team grade point average of 3.6, these young women are continuously listed on either the Dean’s List or President’s List.  They are accomplished in both the athletic and the academic arenas.  These graduates and their teammates depart  the Wallace State campus Sunday morning at 3:30 a.m. for St. George, Utah, with a goal of bringing home a second national softball championship title for Wallace State.  Lady Lions, congratulations.

Andrew and Anthony Birikorang.  Growing up in Ghana, identical twins Andrew and Anthony Agyin-Birikorang developed a deep and abiding passion for soccer. They were 10 years old when the Birikorang family moved to the United States.  These brothers played soccer competitively and were talented enough to join the Wallace State team, graduating tonight after two successful seasons. This dynamic duo has more in common than soccer, however.  Both of these very bright young men have earned transfer scholarships to University of Montevallo.  Andrew will become a physical therapist, and Anthony will major in biology with the intention of concentrating in pediatrics when he gets into medical school.  .

Johnny Tidmore.  Johnny Tidmore didn’t have to go back to school, he already has degrees in accounting and law.  He notes that nursing will be his third career,  but it is the one degree of which he will be most proud.  Perhaps a bit restless in his successful business, the experience of helping to provide care for his fiancé’s grandson ignited his desire to make another career change, this time into nursing. Johnny lives in Arab and had the choice of multiple colleges’ nursing programs, but a recommendation from a trusted mentor led him to choose Wallace State’s nursing program because of its outstanding reputation.  Johnny’s leadership  soon became evident, and his passion for nursing deepened even further through his experience in community outreach during the Let’s Pretend Hospital event, where nursing students use their creativity and knowledge to teach first graders that a hospital does not have to be a frightening place. As President of the nursing student body, Johnny has expanded the nursing program’s reach through social media and even a Harlem Shake video during Let’s Pretend Hospital.

David Hensley. David Hensley is finally realizing a dream that began when he was eight years old. He has earned his helicopter pilot license through the Wallace State Aviation/Flight program.  David is an Army Veteran injured while serving in Iraq. As a member of field artillery, David said as he would sit in a truck behind a rocket launcher and see helicopters flying overhead, he would wish he was up there rather than on the ground. When his time was up in the Army, David chose to work with civilian contractors in Afghanistan, becoming a dog handler. For three years David and his companion searched vehicles for bombs or other contraband as they entered U.S. facilities. The dream of being a helicopter pilot continued to be a dream deferred. With his GI bill soon to expire, David enrolled here and completed his degree in only one year, finishing with 200 flight hours gained by attending college every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and flying every minute allowable. David graduates with an Associate Degree in Helicopter Flight Technology, becoming a dual rated pilot for both airplanes and helicopters.

Honorary presentations were made to softball player Victoria Frith for the Presidential Award for Academic Excellence; to Drafting student Sydney Pair for the Presidential Award for Technical Excellence; and to Nursing student Johnny Tidmore (mentioned above) 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. Beth Bownes-Johnson, Interim Dean of Academic Affairs, 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 those chosen for Who’s Who in American Junior Colleges, members of Phi Theta Kappa honor society, Sigma Kappa Delta English honorary society, Mu Alpha Theta mathematics honorary 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 Adam Hale gave the invocation and Talyor Quick, SGA vice-president, provided the benediction.

Music was provided by the Wallace State Concert Choir and Symphonic Band. The Choir performed a special rendition of “If I Can Help Somebody,” based on Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Drum Major Instinct” speech, with a solo by Paige Harbison. Cassidy Stanford recited an excerpt of King’s speech as the choir began to sing.  Harbison also sang “America.”

Other platform guests included State Representative Mac Buttram; Wallace State Vice President Dr. Tomesa Smith; Deans Johnny McMoy, Melinda Edwards, Jimmy Hodges, Lisa German and Jason Morgan; Assistant Dean for Enrollment Management Jennifer Hill; and Master of Ceremonies Whit Rice.

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