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May 10, 2014

Wallace State celebrates 48th commencement

HANCEVILLE — Wallace State Community College in Hanceville and President Vicki Karolewics conferred degrees upon approximately 900 graduates during Wallace State’s 48th commencement ceremony at Tom Drake Coliseum Friday. Four hundred and seventy participated in the ceremony.

“Whatever inspired you to Become One of Us at Wallace State, whether you were seeking a head start, needed a new beginning, or came on faith that furthering your education was God's plan for you, I hope that you found words of wisdom, maybe a little peace, love and understanding, and even inspiration here,” Dr. Karolewics told the Class of 2014.

“We congratulate you and honor each of you tonight for all that you have achieved,” she said.

Wallace State has educated hundreds of thousands of students since opening its doors in 1966, and nearly 40,000 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 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.

Wallace State Men’s Basketball Team graduates - Marcus Johnson, Jestin Lewis, Sean Anthony, X-keem Jones, Cody Farley, Marcus Burwell and Quinterian McConico.

Wallace State’s men’s basketball team was a great success this past season. These seven players are champions on the court and were all key members of the Wallace State men’s team that won the 2014 ACCC/Region 22 tournament championship and advanced to the NJCAA Division I national tournament. The team finished with a 28-7 record, won 14 in a row during one stretch and won both the regular season and conference tournament championships, leading the Lions to their second state title in three seasons and third in the last five. Coach John Meeks is determined that one hundred percent of his players will graduate. Tonight, all of these young men have scholarship offers, and all are furthering their athletic careers at a university.  So far, Marcus signed with Samford; Quinterian signed with Alabama A&M; Jestin signed with Mercer; and Cody signed with Lee University.

Robert Summerford.

Robert Summerford graduates tonight as one of the most successful students to complete the Wallace State Diesel Technology program. Robert is Wallace State’s 2014 President’s Cup award winner, and he is one of the first students to earn both his Diesel Technology credential and the new Associate of Applied Science degree in General Technology. At Wallace State, Robert has maintained a high grade point average while also working nights and weekends. Robert said his interest in diesel technology goes back to his days as a child when he grew up hanging out at his grandfather’s farm, helping his grandfather with the tractor.  Having two job offers on the same day, Robert now works at Tractor and Equipment Company in Decatur, living his dream. Robert recently landed second place in the state’s SkillsUSA Diesel Technology competition.  His instructor complimented Robert’s work ethic and desire to excel in all that he does.  

Brady O’Rear.

As a non-traditional student in the Wallace State Nursing program, Brady O’Rear was more than a classmate to his fellow students. He served as a quintessential role model and fatherly example for all the classmates he influenced. Brady had worked his entire life at a local plant until it was shut down. Forced to consider retraining for a new profession, Brady decided he wanted to become a nurse and chose to attend Wallace State’s outstanding Nursing program. Brady said he wasn’t sure how well he would do as a new college student, but he nervously took the nursing entrance exam and the next thing he knew, he was sitting in a classroom full of young people, feeling all out of place. He graduates today with a perfect 4.0 GPA, but also leaves a solid example for other nursing students to emulate. Brady has conducted study groups for his classmates in his home and quietly assisted students where needed, always striving to be an advocate for them and the nursing program.

Jimmy Foster.

Jimmy Foster has continued the Foster legacy in the Wallace State Welding program, and he graduates tonight with outstanding credentials to enter the welding profession. Like his twin brother Joey, who also graduated from our Welding program in 2009 and was a SkillsUSA champion on the state and national levels, Jimmy Foster has found his niche as a welder. Jimmy recently earned first place in the 2014 SkillsUSA state competition and he will compete on the national level in Kansas City, Mo., in June. Jimmy is a graduate of J.B. Pennington and he landed a job at Birmingham Water Works right after high school, but he was inspired by the successful career Joey established as a certified welder and decided to make a career change. Jimmy has flourished while following in his brother’s footsteps, and he has completed his welding degree while also working 10-hour shifts at O’Neal Steel in Birmingham.

Levi Ponder.

Business administration student Levi Ponder graduates tonight after being named one of only 50 Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team Gold Scholars among qualified candidates from 38 states. Levi is a graduate of Vinemont High School, named to the All Alabama Academic Team, and recognized as a Gold Scholar in April at the Phi Theta Kappa National Convention.  Levi earned scholarship funds as a Gold Scholar, which will be helpful as he transfers now to Auburn University where he plans to pursue an accounting degree. Levi’s service on campus will be missed. Along with his academic success, Levi has served as a strong example outside the classroom at Wallace State, participating in the college’s Student Government Association (SGA), as a Student Outreach and Recruitment (SOAR) participant and as an ambassador for area high school students through Wallace State’s inaugural Youth Leadership Development Program (YLDP).

The Fast Track Academy graduates - Mahaley Motzkus, Cady Smith, Cassandra Still, Kristi Davis, Morgan Batemon, Saranda Blythe, Jordan Fore, Falan Littleton, Christopher Smith

These students are among 28 high school students who graduated from our Fast Track Academy earlier this week. Fast Track is Wallace State’s intensive early college program, a national model marked by impressive student achievement.

Tonight, two weeks before receiving their high school diplomas, these students are graduating with a degree or certificate from Wallace State. Each of them plans to continue their education at a university next year.  Collectively, this group has an average GPA of 3.7 and they have earned over 350 hours of college credit.  This year’s talented group of Fast Track students have been awarded more than $150,000 in scholarships to Auburn, UAH, UAB, UNA, Jacksonville State, and Athens State, to name a few. There is even a National Merit Scholar among the 28 graduates, many of whom are graduating in the top 10 of their high school class, including a class valedictorian.

Andrea Micelli, Dyer Jones, Shelby O’Brien, Paul Minda, Justin Johnson.

These students are among a multi-talented group of singers, concert choir members and theatre actors – all performing in multiple roles – who have brought incredible beauty into our lives during their time here.  Those of attended the amazing tribute to the Beatles they put on recently under the direction of Tiffany Richter and last fall’s theatre performance of Shrek The Musical, directed by Lauren Cantrell, know exactly how good this group is. As Wallace State pursues its vision to be a regional center reputed for its support of high caliber fine and performing arts, the commitment and talents of these students and have helped us to achieve that vision. Their leadership and enthusiasm ensures that their legacy will live on in the next class of performers.

Kevin Dutton.

Kevin Dutton didn’t like going to school. He disliked it so much that he dropped out in the tenth grade. He subsequently earned his GED and began working a long string of manual labor jobs, and during that time of his life, going to college was the very last thing on his mind. One of those jobs, however, led to an injury that left him with no use of his dominant right hand. Losing his job because of the injury was a final blow. During his rehabilitation, Kevin was inspired by the therapists who helped him, and considering his employment options for the future, Kevin decided that helping others who needed rehabilitative treatment was something he wanted to do. He entered Wallace State’s Occupational Therapy Assistant program, where he applied himself as he never did in high school. After never having achieved straight A’s throughout his high school career, Kevin was ecstatic to find his name for the first time on the prestigious President’s List. He had renewed hope that he had made the right choice for a new career.

Eric Vaughn.

Eric Vaughn admits he wasted his first chance for a college education.  After graduating high school 18 years ago, he began his college journey at the University of North Alabama, majoring in music.  He took his first drink in college. That drink, bad decisions, and unhealthy friendships led him quickly down the path of substance abuse and addiction.  He dropped out of the university and eventually entered the Air Force where he excelled in Special Ops, even in the throes of addiction. Superiors who knew he had a problem protected him because he was good at what he did and they liked him. Privately, though, they began to encourage him to go to rehab. He decided instead to leave the Air Force honorably, and to continue his high.

The next several years were a blur, filled with all the horrible things that often accompany addictions, such as various stages of homelessness, job trouble, legal trouble, relationship trouble, and his first overdose.  The miracle was that along the way he met his wife Patty, and she stuck by him and never stopped trying to help him. The turning point came when he overdosed …for the second time. Then he knew, it was change or die. He had lost the entire decade of his 20s, and more than a year of his oldest son’s life, and he realized he didn't want to miss another minute of his life nor especially of the lives of his wife and beautiful child. Treatment at Bradford was a turning point. A new job allowed him to return to college, in the evenings at first.  Eric said it was Patty who acted as his compass, pointing him in the direction of pursuing his education again, supporting and encouraging him, and working full time while he finished his degree.  (Patty is a Wallace State alumna, who works as a lab tech in Birmingham.)   His sons, John William, 8, and Tyler, now 1 1/2, have been his inspiration. They are all here tonight, along with his parents, who were surprised and delighted to see Eric’s picture on the cover of our spring schedule.

Eric is a member of the Wallace State jazz and concert bands, and tonight he graduates with a degree in music education. He was awarded two scholarships to continue his education at UAB. He plans to earn his master’s degree in music and to teach. He never wanted anyone to think of him as a former addict but, as a man of faith, and with the transformational experience of not only having persevered but of having excelled in higher education, he realized that if he could help even one person going through something similar to know there is hope for those who want it, then his is a story worth telling.

Special presentations were made Haylee Smith, a general studies major, for the Presidential Award for Academic Excellence; to diesel technology student Robert Summerford (mentioned above) for the Presidential Award for Technical Excellence; and to Occupational Therapy student Jordan Davis 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 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 member and Coca-Cola Gold Scholar Levi Ponder gave the invocation and the benediction.

Music was provided by the Wallace State Concert Choir and Symphonic Band. The Choir received a standing ovation for its performance of a special rendition of “Let it Be,” with solos by Sarah Walker, Shelby O’Brien, and Zach Cleghorn.

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

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