It was standing room only at the Fred E. Davis Multipurpose Center at State Fair Community College on Friday, as 552 candidates received their degrees.
Dressed in dark blue gowns and caps, the soon-to-be graduates lined up outside the building before the ceremony, chatting with their friends and nervously awaiting their big moment.
“The only thing that’s really going through my head right now is ‘don’t trip,’ ” said Patrick Hawkins, who received his Associate of Applied Science degree. “I’m nervous but excited about graduating and trying to find a job.”
“The next step for me is transferring (to the University of Central Missouri),” said Chris Hoke, who received an Associate of Arts degree. “I had great experiences at State Fair though, a lot of good times and memories.”
As the students filed into the building, family and friends waved and cheered, trying to catch their attention.
“I’m here today for my daughter, Jamie,” said Rick Niemeier, of Marceline. “She’s getting her Associate of Arts degree. I’m very proud of her and I can’t wait to see her walk across that stage.”
After an invocation, presentation of the national colors and national anthem, SFCC president Marsha Drennon gave the welcome speech to the students, emphasizing the four D’s.
“Dedication, determination, discipline and desire,” she said. “If you keep in mind these four D’s, they will get you where you want to go.”
Drennon then introduced the 2007-2008 Distinguished Alumna, Nellie Owen.
Retired instructor and treasurer of the SFCC Board of Trustees, Ron Wineinger, nominated Owen for the award.
“In the spring of 1989, Nellie enrolled at SFCC,” he said. “Not only was she a nontraditional student but she was paralyzed from the waist down due to an automobile accident. However, she refused to let her disability affect her.”
While enrolled, Owen was a member of Phi Theta Kappa academic honor society, worked with the Student Government Association and was named SFCC’s 1990-1991 Outstanding Student. She graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in 1991 and went on to major in biology at the University of Missouri — Columbia. In 1994, she was accepted into MU’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
“In the entire history of MU’s veterinary school, no one in a wheelchair had ever been admitted,” said Wineinger. “She became the first person with such a disability to be admitted and upon completion, she became only the second person in the United States to graduate from a veterinary school with such a disability.”
Owen, who is now a senior research technician and clinical trials coordinator at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery in Columbia, also gave the commencement speech at the ceremony.
“The advice I have to give you graduates comes from my favorite book, ‘The Four Agreements,’ ” she said. “Be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best.”
After Owen’s speech, students were called by name as their received their diplomas, while their family and friends cheered them on.
“I’m here to see my grandson, Andrew Schroeder, get his degree in Welding Technology,” said Glenda Wade, of Ava. “He’s the first grandson to graduate and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
“The only other advice I can give you is simple, but crucial,” said Owen. “Live, laugh, love and learn. If you go through life without any one of these, you’re missing out.”