HOUGHTON - At 55 years old, James Brandt knows he's one of the more atypical graduates at Michigan Technological University, but despite his uniqueness, he had a good time working toward his degree in accounting.
Brandt, who was one of about 1,000 graduates getting their degrees Saturday at the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena in the Student Development Complex, said although most of his classmates, and even some of his instructors, were young enough to be his children, he didn't feel very much out of place.
"It wasn't too bad," he said.
Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette
Glenn Mroz, Michigan Technological University president, addresses the university’s 1,000 graduates Saturday during the spring commencement ceremony.
After graduating from high school, Brandt said he joined the U.S. Navy, where he got some college credits and with some other instruction he received over the years, he acquired more credits, most of which he was able to transfer to Tech.
The biggest problem he had at Tech, Brandt said, was keeping up academically with the younger students who were coming to Tech right out of high school.
"I was in competition with professional students," he said. "They're used to learning."
Brandt said he's not certain yet what he'll do now that he has graduated.
"I'm not really sure," he said. "I'm going to take some time off."
Despite that uncertainty about his next step, Brandt said he's glad he made the effort to get his degree.
"I've enjoyed coming (to Tech)," he said. "I learned a lot from my younger classmates."
After the graduates assembled on the floor of the ice arena, Tech President Glenn Mroz spoke to them.
Mroz said he often talks about Tech graduates who have gone on to be influential in business and various scientific and technological fields, and current students are also doing substantial work.
"Now, you graduating in this room today have some pretty impressive accomplishments, too," he said.
Some Tech students are doing projects for business and technological research, among other things, Mroz said.
Mroz said the success of the graduates comes not only from their hard work, but also from the support of family, friends and instructors.
Many students were a long way from home, and Mroz said that often made the effort needed for school work more difficult.
"You've come from across the nation and the world, and you've learned more than you thought," he said. "You've learned to be creative thinkers and problem solvers."
Mroz said successful people don't rely on luck, but rather they know how to find opportunity even in difficult situations.
"The people who have the best success are the people who make the best of the challenges they face," he said.
After he spoke, Mroz introduced the commencement speaker, 1983 Tech grad in mechanical engineering, Martha Sullivan, who is president, chief operating officer and director of Sensata Technologies, a manufacturer of sensors and controls.
Mroz said Sullivan was somewhat unique at the time she attended Tech.
"She was one of the few women in mechanical engineering, which prepared her for working in a world dominated by men," he said.
Sullivan said although most of the graduates were about to move onto jobs, she urged them to look into places about which many people may not be thinking.
"I'm asking you to expand the boundaries," she said. "There are a lot of neglected frontiers out there."
Those neglected frontiers included sustainability, health care costs and biodiversity, among others, she said.
Sullivan told the graduates to have "subcutaneous questions," or ideas that would get under their skin.
"The possibilities you pursue must be your own," she said.
Sullivan had a special message for the female graduates, and urged them to not give up or give in to the obstacles they may face because of their gender.
"Self doubt is the discordant sound which may silence your song," she said.
Sullivan said the pursuit of possibilities is its own reward.
"Welcome to the journey," she said.
Also graduating Saturday was Tsitsi Hungwe, who is from Zimbabwe but grew up in Houghton. She came to Tech because both of her sisters also attended the university.
Hungwe received a bachelor of science degree in molecular biology and biochemistry, and will be attending the University of Louisville School of Dentistry in July. She intends to be a dentist and work in an area not well served by dentists.
Hungwe said her experience at Tech was pleasurable, and she made a lot of friends as well as connections.
"It exceeded my expectations," she said.