“This is a stepping stone to future events,” Three Rivers College graduate Keiarra Lee said during Friday evening’s commencement ceremony.
Lee along with cheer squad teammate McKenzie Dazey stood with their fellow TRC graduates in the hall of the Libla Family Sports Complex ahead of being the first class to graduate in the new facility.
“I will remember how Three Rivers was like a family,” Dazey said.
Now that the girls are among the newest group of TRC graduates, they will be parting ways.
“We are part of a team so we cheer each other on,” Lee said.
Dazey added while they only cheered together for a short time, the two girls spent many hours together, so the day held some sadness.
“I’m also nervous and excited,” she said. “We have worked hard for this.”
Also sharing their journey through TRC, nursing students Mallory McDaniel, Zane Foust, Bailey Roach and Mary Kate Miller sat together for a final time before heading in different directions.
“I’m so excited and relieved,” McDaniel said about graduation day finally arriving. “We have been working our butts off for two years and it feels phenomenal to be here. It’s really indescribable.”
As TRC celebrated the college’s 53rd year of service to the citizens of Southeast Missouri, over 1,000 degrees and certificates were awarded to nearly 600 students.
Among those graduates was Jasmine Sales.
Her family waited in the lobby of the Libla Family Sports Complex with flowers, gifts and hugs for their newest graduate following the ceremony.
“This was emotional for me because I know it has been a long journey for her,” sister Justice Ware-Burrow said. “She inspires me and I’m glad she made it.”
Sales two children were also in attendance to see their mother cross the stage to accept her diploma.
Ivy, 3, and Austin, 7, said they clapped loudly for their mother.
“It’s inspirational and I want to make sure my kids do the same,” husband Andrew Sales said. “The hard work paid off.”
Sales’ achievement was something her whole family was involved in. Her husband said he helped with her experiments, projects, would read out loud and keep his wife motivated.
“Press on through, you got this,” Sales told his wife often.
TRC 2019 Distinguished Alumni and Commencement Speaker Todd Richardson encouraged graduates to thank those who helped them achieve their goals.
In a society that values the notion of rugged individuals and the idea that success and progress is born from shear power and drive to succeed, Richardson reminded the graduates all had reached this point because other people have helped make it possible.
“None of us would be here without the love of parents, grandparents, teachers or mentors,” he said. “There is power in being thankful and recognizing people who helped get us to where we are.”
Richardson shared his journey to graduating law school and the path he took to get there.
It took him almost nine years from the time he left TRC to obtain his undergraduate degree.
“To put that in perspective, I started college with Windows 95 and when I graduated they were about ready to have iPhones,” he said.
He enrolled in five different higher educational institutions and at one point had a GPA “lower than Death Valley,” he said.
While sharing with an advisor his plan to attend law school, the man quickly told Richardson they needed to find a new plan for him.
“I would like to tell you that is where I had this grand moment and got mad and decided to prove him wrong, but it wasn’t,” he said. “It took another few years, but I got into law school by the skin of my teeth.”
Richardson shared he graduated with one of the lowest grade point averages in his undergraduate law school class, but he was determined to not allow how he got there determine his success.
“I worked hard and graduated No. 2 in my law school class,” he said. “Where I was mattered more than how I got there.”
Imagining some of the new graduates could relate with his story, Richardson reminded the struggles are a part of what makes a person who they are.
“Remember how you got here matters, but the fact you are here matters a lot more and where you are going matters the most,” he said.
Board of Trustees Chair Dr. Tim Hager expressed how gratifying it was for him to see so many graduates heading off to a brand new life with a degree from TRC.
“Education is the key to a better quality of life for our area,” he said. “Education is the key to a better life for students, their families and for the communities they call home.”
Hager, a TRC alum, shared his story of making the transition from public school and how he struggled in the beginning.
Three Rivers is where he figured “it” out.
Admitting he “forgot” to study during his first semester at TRC, with the help of staff, Hager was able to eventually make his way to achieving his doctorate after getting a start in Poplar Bluff.
“This college made me as a student and in turn it made me as an adult,” he said.
Hager also reminded faculty there is always a kid in the back row who is also trying to “figure it out” and to be nice and kind to them because they could grow up and become chairman of the board of trustees.
“Class of 2019, welcome to the Raider Nation,” he said.
Denise Kinder - Daily American Republic