Taking the next step

Hundreds of graduates cross the stage at MCC commencement ceremony

NEWS CHRONICLE PHOTO BY ROBERT MAHARRY — Meskwaki Settlement School Senior Sophie Balderas, pictured, received her paraeducator generalist certificate during the MCC commencement ceremony last Friday night.

MARSHALLTOWN — A celebratory mood was in the air on Friday night as over 500 Marshalltown Community College and Iowa Valley Grinnell (IVG) graduates from all over the world — including a large contingent from Tama County — received degrees, certificates and diplomas during a commencement ceremony held at the MCC Student Activities Center.

But it was also emotional as longtime MCC Provost Robin Shaffer Lilienthal oversaw her final ceremony before her retirement from the school where she has spent over two decades, and Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarship winner and keynote speaker Nikita McNamee got candid about her struggles with anxiety and depression and how she overcame them.

Lilienthal traced her journey in higher education back to her own days as an 18-year-old work study student in the career placement office at her alma mater.

“I learned that you could make a career out of working each and every day with college students, so I thought to myself ‘How cool is that? How lucky would I be to get paid to work at a college?’ So I began following a path of education and training that became my career passion,” she said. “That passion led me to working with college students across the state of Iowa, but for the last 23 ½ years, my purpose has been serving the students, faculty and staff of Marshalltown Community College and Iowa Valley Grinnell. Well, tonight I’m taking another step in my life because, like each of you, class of 2024, I am graduating.”

The provost thanked everyone who played a role in helping her reach this point in her journey and hoped the students walking across the stage would be equipped with the tools they need to go out into the world — whether that means the workforce or a four-year institution — and make a positive impact.

“Regardless of the next step that will lead to your life’s purpose, we are thrilled to have been such a small part of your life’s experience and are pleased to celebrate you this evening,” Lilienthal said.

IVG Dean of Students Ashtyn Beek then introduced McNamee, an English major from Melbourne who is transferring to the University of Iowa with aspirations of becoming a college professor someday. He praised McNamee for her “brilliant” writing that has astounded her instructors and her “attentive listening and authentic empathy.”

“However, if you ask Nikita about her accomplishments, her genuine humility might just mask how much of a rockstar she really is,” Beek said.

McNamee started her address by referencing some of the external factors causing uncertainty in the world at large, and she then got more personal as she described her own battles with agoraphobia (fear of leaving home) and anxiety, a disorder that affects millions every year.

The biggest source of anxiety for students, McNamee said, is their performance in classes, but she commended the professors at MCC for their commitment to ensuring that students succeed regardless of their circumstances. She praised the graduates who were heading into the trades and nursing along with how many, like her, were first generation college students, which drew applause from the audience, and she summed up her overarching message later in the speech.

“We are never alone… Even when life doesn’t go your way, and even when depression tells you you are, you’re not,” she said.

She encouraged those in the audience to be unafraid in asking for help and grateful for all the people that have played a part in getting them to that stage on Friday, including those who played a key role in her own journey — especially her father, who she credited for moving “heaven and earth” to support her.

“Take some time to thank those in your life who made this day possible, even if that just refers to yourself. Congratulations to the Class of 2024, and good luck on the rest of your journey,” McNamee said.

Dean of Academic Affairs Vincent Boyd then recognized several high achieving students from MCC and IVG with special commendations, and Faculty Senate President Ramona Linville presented honorary degrees to three departing staff members — Lilienthal, Bookstore Manager Paulla Hartman and Pelenatete Waddilove of the nursing department.

From there, it was time for the graduates to walk across the stage and receive those all-important pieces of paper that they will use to further either their educations or careers, and they were then received warmly outside the gym, posing for photos with friends, family members and everyone else who supported them along the way.