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Graduates honored

KBOCC holds commencement ceremony

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Courtney Clisch, who graduated from Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College with an associate’s degree in Anishinaabe studies, performs “Forever Young” during Saturday’s commencement ceremony.

BARAGA — The Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College honored 10 graduates, as well as outstanding students and faculty, during its commencement and awards ceremony on Saturday.

Commencement speaker Brigitte LaPointe-Dunham, CEO of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, congratulated the students for overcoming so many obstacles — from remote classes to the death of Betty White — during a tumultuous two-year period.

“You kept your focus through it all,” she said. “In person or via Zoom, you were there putting in the work. With each struggle or barrier life throws at us, we grow …. Maybe we fail and fail again, but how you get up and dust yourself off and continue that growth is what matters.”

Leadership isn’t about a pinstripe suit or corner office, Lapointe-Dunham said.

She quoted Brene Brown’s definition of leadership, saying, “(It is) anyone who takes responsibility to find the potential in people and processes and has the courage to develop that potential.”

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College board members Donald Chosa, left, and Kathleen Smith, right, drape a blanket around graduate Kinsey LaFernier during Saturday’s commencement ceremony.­­­

LaPointe-Dunham’s mother, who got her nursing degree while raising five young children as a single mother, showed leadership. So did the students at the ceremony, LaPointe-Dunham said.

“Many of you have families of your own, young children, full-time jobs, and you still did it,” she said. “You weren’t afraid to overcome. That’s leadership.”

Sheila Royal graduated with an associate’s degree in business administration. As a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, she appreciates how the college incorporates the Anishinaabe culture into its studies.

“The instructors and the professors, they all go above and beyond for you, and sometimes they almost feel like a second mom or a second dad,” she said. “They’ll do just about anything. If you need help, they’re always there for you.”

Her favorite memory from KBOCC is the beading class she took in her final semester. She already put her lessons into practice Saturday, lining her mortarboard with intricate patterns.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College graduates, including Courtney Clisch, front, walk through a Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Color Guard line at the end of Saturday’s commencement ceremony.

“I think that’s going to help me in the future because then I can teach my children in the future and it’s a tradition I can pass on,” she said.

After graduation, Royal will continue to build the landscaping business she runs with her husband. She is now enrolled at Central Michigan University, where she is majoring in organizational leadership.

Vanessa Rasanen, a business administration graduate, and Taryn Mleko, an early childhood education graduate, were co-valedictorians. Both graduated with a 4.0 grade-point average.

Before degrees were awarded, the KBOCC honored outstanding students and faculty.

Faculty Member of the Year was awarded jointly to department chairs Denise Cadeau, Tashina Emery, Andrew Kozich, Paula Roth and Karen Colbert for “their dedication, their perseverance and their commitment to the college and these students,” organizers said.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette From left, Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College graduates Kinsey LaFernier, Victoria Rajala, Sheila Royal, Skye Loonsfoot, Courtney Clisch and Justin Smith stand after receiving their degrees Saturday.

The American Indian College Fund KBOCC Student of the Year was Brendon Pasino.

Environmental science student Destine Grigsby was named Freshman of the Year.

In individual departments, student awards were given to Cassidy Nauertz in Anishinaabe studies, Kristy Laramore in environmental science, graduate Victoria Rajala in early childhood education and Cindy Niemi in liberal studies.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Honor Guard, including Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College board member Donald Chosa, right, leads graduates during Saturday’s commencement ceremony.

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