Going down a new path

MARSHALL – The Southwest Minnesota State University campus was filled with graduates’ family and friends for the 46th commencement ceremony on Saturday. Four hundred and fifteen of the 620 eligible graduates participated in the ceremony.

Before the ceremony began, graduates and professors lined the halls of the university in anticipation of filing into the R/A Facility.

“I’m very excited to be done,” said Jeana Watts of Marshall who received an MBA. “It has been a great experience, and I have learned a lot.”

Down the hall, Paige Swenson of Gaylord prepared to carry the banner that would lead her fellow justice administration classmates into the ceremony.

“I’m super excited to walk,” Swenson said. “After this, I’m going to start looking into masters programs.”

Noah Anderson of Madelia finished his coursework for his music management degree in December but came back to SMSU to walk for graduation.

“I’ve been in Minneapolis since February looking for work,” Anderson said. “Just trying to find an in and get a foot in the door.”

When asked why he came back to walk, Anderson said, “I’m the first male on my dad’s side to get a degree. My sister graduated from here four years ago… kind of a family tradition now.”

Clarence Hightower, 1977 SMSU alumnus, welcomed the crowd and gave a greeting from the Minnesota State College and Universities’ Board of Trustees. Hightower is the executive director of the Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties and currently serves as the chairman of the MnSCU Board of Trustees.

“Our state colleges and universities have made three commitments to the people of Minnesota,” Hightower said. “First, we give access to an extraordinary education to all Minnesotans. Second, we aim to be the partner of choice between Minnesota’s workforce and community needs. Third, we deliver to students, employers, communities and tax payers the highest value and affordable higher education we can.”

Later in the ceremony, Hightower received a Presidential Award for his support and representation of the university. The last time a Presidential Award was given out was in 1996 to Robert Johnson, a charter administrator and faculty member.

The keynote speaker was 2002 alumnus Christy Busven, an attorney with Fredrikson & Byron in Minneapolis. She gave the graduates some advice on taking the next step toward a career.

“I encourage you to foster strong relationships here,” Busven said. “The top three things that they need to remember is to recognize opportunities, confidentially seize those opportunities and build strong connections.”

Faculty member Dr. James Zarzana was also recognized at the ceremony with the 2014 Cowan Award. Zarzana has been at SMSU for 25 years teaching English and literature. He recently released his novel “The Marsco Dissident.”

The award, named after psychology professor Cathy Cowan, who was killed in a car accident in 2001, is given annually to a SMSU faculty or staff member who has made great contributions to SMSU and the region.

“Today marks 40 years for my academic career,” Zarzana said. “I am touched and honored more than I can say.”

Zarzana thanked his nominating team for believing that he was worthy of the award.

“All the other 11 Cowan award recipients… I stand in awe among and with the pillars of this university,” he said.

Zarzana gave some final advice to graduates as they embark on their new paths, “Remember: you are not Shetland ponies – you are mustangs. Play big.”