Alumni Plaza the center of the Dowagiac campus


Proceeding to the theatre from the O’Leary Building

Proceeding to the theatre from the O’Leary Building

Student speaker Kara Murphy

Student speaker Kara Murphy of Niles

Student speaker Tatyanna Blaylock

Student speaker Tatyanna Blaylock of Stevensville

Gage Ensign and Presley Buti, third from left, graduated with perfect 4.0s

Gage Ensign and Presley Buti, third from left, graduated with all A’s

Drew Ruth revealed his secret identity as Ronnie Roadrunner

Drew Ruth revealed his secret identity as Ronnie Roadrunner

Melissa Crespo

Melissa Crespo

SMC’s 56th Commencement Graduates 317

Published on May 1, 2023 - 12 p.m.

Two women spoke on behalf of Southwestern Michigan College’s Class of 2023 April 29 at 56th Commencement ceremonies for 317 students in the theatre of the Dale A. Lyons Building on SMC’s Dowagiac campus.

Kara Murphy of Niles addressed the School of Arts and Sciences Saturday morning, while Tatyanna Blaylock of Stevensville spoke to the Schools of Business, Advanced Technology and Nursing and Health Services Saturday afternoon.

“If we were to write a book on our time at SMC,” Murphy said, “we would find chapters involving drama, mystery, revelation and thrilling moments. As with any book, it is not complete without a cast of characters and some interesting plot twists. The book would begin where I, like many of you, was wrapping up high school and looking into options to map out my future. SMC was a perfect choice as it helped me transition from the general studies of public education to a focused direction.”

Murphy mentioned mentors help guide heroes on their journeys, offering wisdom, counsel and advice against pursuing wrong paths. Hers were Professor Dr. Barbara Karwacinski and Associate Professor Christy Tidd, who “offered me advice in and outside the classroom as I sorted out my journey. I could dedicate chapters to advice I received from my professors. I’d expand on ‘find your why.’ We each have different reasons for being here, but it is our ‘why’ that has gotten us to this point. Why we worked so hard to attain our accomplishments, why did you pursue a degree beyond high school and why are you graduating? Why can be a tool in adding structure to chart your path after SMC. Why is the most interesting plot twist to your own book. Like Taylor Swift said, ‘The scary news is that you’re on your own now, but the cool news is that you’re on your own now.’ It’s entirely up to you how you want your story to unfold. If that responsibility ever overwhelms you, do not be afraid to ask for help because the people who surround you are there to support you and to advance the plot. As you start a new story, a new set of conflicts, antagonists, achievements and experiences will shape your character. You have the power to make your own story a bestseller.”

Murphy, graduating with an Associate of Arts degree in psychology, served as Psychology Club president and started work in August 2021 as a behavioral health technician at LOGAN Autism Learning Center, Benton Harbor.

She plans to continue her studies at Western Michigan University, majoring in psychology, with a sociology minor.

Murphy seeks a career as a behavioral analyst, helping those with special needs achieve their highest desired quality of life.

At SMC, she belonged to Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) honor society, AKO Bible Club and Criminal Justice Club.

Blaylock, a Health Information Technology (HIT) graduate, attended Lakeshore High School. She was inducted into PTK and helped create a HIT video for SMC Day. Blaylock hopes to work her way into management with her current employer, Michiana Hematology Oncology, Mishawaka. She is engaged to be married in November.

“If you asked me 2 ½ years ago if I thought I’d be standing here today, I would have laughed,” Blaylock said. “I got a phlebotomy certificate straight out of high school but couldn’t get a job due to lack of experience. In 2016, I decided to go back to college for a degree in health care. Whether as a nurse, medical assistant or radiologist, I knew health care was my calling. In my first semester of biology at another college, I did so poorly that I had to drop the course. I felt so defeated when my advisor said if I was bad at science, why was I trying to get into health care?

“I promised myself I would not put myself into a position to fail again, so I quit school,” Blaylock said. “Later, I did get a job as a phlebotomist and continued that career through the beginning of COVID. Everything was shutting down, classes switched online and a black cloud of uncertainty loomed. My father found the Future for Frontliners program which provided assistance to go back to school. I wanted to be behind the scenes in health care with a computer, but still helping patients in other ways. I found HIT with Professor (Julie) Zabriskie and began my journey in January 2021. She constantly reassured me, ‘Trust me. You will get through this. No tears, no tantrums.’ Between her and advisor Malisa Roberts, it motivated me to do better. When I came to SMC, I did not expect to have a team by my side. I’m grateful to have been a student here.”

Provost Dr. David Fleming announced students who graduated with all A’s: Presley Buti of Niles, Christian Johnson of Paw Paw, Emma Hinsey of Niles, Gage Ensign of Three Rivers, Emma Holmes of Marcellus, William Poitras of Cassopolis, Aden Sgro of Goshen and Alyson Swingle of Fennville.

Three hundred and 17 individual students applied to graduate, seeking 323 degrees and certificates.

“Whether you’re transferring or going right into your careers, what you have begun here can take you anywhere,” Eighth President Dr. Joe Odenwald said. “You’re a Roadrunner for life. You’re always welcome back on campus for academic, arts and athletic events. Stay connected as an alum so we can build the next generation of Roadrunners. You have my word that we’re working daily to enhance the value of your degree.”

Ninth-year Board of Trustees Chairman Thomas Jerdon thanked “the SMC staff, faculty and administration for another year of dedication to student success.” Jerdon introduced board members Secretary Beth Cripe, Treasurer Becky Moore and Trustees Dr. Elaine Foster and Todd Obren.