Despite a sizable pummeling of snow and sleet, more than 2,000 students and their families braved slippery road conditions and 16 degree weather to attend three, nearly back-to-back fall commencement ceremonies on Saturday.
Conferring 2,409 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students, the frozen affair honored the last of Central Michigan University’s 2013 class with warm words of farewell and fortune.
“Today is the happiest, most significant day we have on campus,” said University President George Ross in his opening remarks to the newly-graduated students before him. “Use this day to reflect back on the experiences you’ve gained, and to take stock of how much you have grown as a person. It is now your turn to transform the world.”
For nearly seven hours — starting at 9 a.m. and spanning across two afternoon events at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. — McGuirk Arena was packed with teary-eyed friends and family members, all of whom were anxiously awaiting their loved ones’ final steps as college students.
Among those nervous, but excited parents was Beth Fryer, of Williamston. Fryer’s son, Timothy John Fryer, 23, a business education major, was scheduled to walk during the 9 a.m. ceremony. However elated she was to see her first-born son get his bachelor’s degree — a first on both sides of his family — Fryer couldn’t shake the usual musings of a loving, yet worried mother.
“I couldn’t sleep,” she said. “I was afraid of everything; that something might go wrong or his name wouldn’t be in the program.”
His father, Brian, was a little less shaken, focusing instead on the joy of the moment.
“I am very pleased,” Brian said. “I can’t really put it into words. We’re just so blessed and fortunate.”
While family gathered in the arena, the soon-to-be graduates gathered in the basement of the Student Activity Center before the events began. Lined up in different ques designated by degree type, the herd of students reflected on their final moments as students and what they enjoyed most about attending CMU.
“I think the thing that had the biggest impact on my life here was what we did in my ENT 492 course,” said Shane Parent, a 23-year-old graduate from Caldonia and a Coast Guard veteran. “We worked on real start-ups, helping the owners of these start-up companies get their businesses going. It was great knowing that I had a hand in helping start a start-up.”
Parent wore one of CMU’s first veteran honors cord, which were created last month during the Fall semester’s final Academic Senate meeting. He added that getting his degree in Entrepreneurship was a capstone to his experience garnered from the military.
“I did it because I felt like I needed to do more for my country,” he said. “Going to college was a bonus, but I’m pretty proud of it (and the cord). Not to sound arrogant, but this is something that I did and that I accomplished.”
Mislin Perez-Fernandez, a Global Campus student from Columbus, Ohio, shared Parent’s exuberance. The 37-year-old came to Mount Pleasant to walk and receive her master’s degree of Science in Administration, her second master’s degree in total — she also holds a Juris doctorate degree.
Joined by her husband Sean, 31, and her son Kevin, 14, Perez-Fernandez said working full-time and raising a family was strenuous, but her family encouraged her to finish the two-year graduate degree.
“My husband was really the difference in this case,” she said. “I’m lucky to have him. It helps when you have a lot of support from your family.”
During each ceremony, a different guest speaker gave their take on what it takes to make it in life after college. This year’s speakers were Joseph Anderson Jr., Edward Christian and Jan Pol. In the commencement tradition, each were given honorary doctorate degrees.
While all three focused on the vitality of youth and the importance of taking opportunities as soon as they arise, Pol, a hometown hero of sorts for his reality show based on his private veterinary practice in Weidman, focused more on doing something you love and sticking with it.
“Never give up on your dreams,” Pol said. “If there are molehills in the way, walk over them. If your job is like a hobby, then you’ll never work a day in your life — and they’ll still pay you for it, too.”
As the ceremony ended, graduates like Alyssa Sullivan and Kelsey Goulding, both 22 years old and from Port Huron, took a moment to pause and recollect about what they will miss most about attending CMU.
“I’ll miss the camaraderie of the university the most,” Sullivan said. “It’s such a close-knit community. You can go anywhere and say ‘Fire up Chips,’ and they’ll chant it right back to you.”
That camaraderie was palpable: Sullivan and Goulding have been friends since the eighth grade. The pair said many Port Huron natives attend CMU, and tend to stick together.
“The only thing we didn’t do is live together, because we wanted to stay friends,” said Goulding with a laugh.
Yet there is one thing that two will not miss about their time in Mount Pleasant.
“The snow; I will not miss that at all,” Sullivan said.