SMEC school graduates 30 — its largest class to date

Published 2:35 pm Thursday, May 26, 2022

Graduation is always a special event at schools and the Southern Minnesota Education Consortium (SMEC) is no different.

However, this year there was a little extra special to the graduating class of 30 students from districts including Grand Meadow, Glenville-Emmons, Owatonna, Lyle, LeRoy-Ostrander, Alden-Conger and Austin.

The largest graduating class in SMEC history can now boast a 100% graduation rate, with several receiving diplomas and certificates from Riverland Community College while holding part and full-time jobs at the same time.

“I’m proud of this class. The kids have overcome a lot to get to this point,” said Dan Armagost, SMEC executive director. “They’ve really worked hard to get to this point.”

Students who attend SMEC’s alternative learning center do so for a variety of reasons, but at its heart the ALC helps students in one fundamental way — helping them get to this point.

“I come back to not everyone learns the same way,” Armagost said. “That’s what we’re here for.”

No matter the background of this year’s graduating class, the reaction was the same: pure celebration.

Cheers erupted often as student’s names were read off, hugs were exchanged and in the end a rousing applause from the crowd greeted the presented graduates.

“These students overcome a lot,” said the ALC’s Kathy Pillar to those in attendance. “These guys all have a special place in our hearts.”

Those attending the SMEC ALC take on a lot when taking courses through the school, but it’s not all school work.

Among the projects the class has been part of this year, many included helping out around the school including building a greenhouse that survived the December 2021 storms, raising chickens and rebuilding equipment used by the school.

“These kids take a lot of pride in this building,” Pillar said. “We’re very excited for these guys. They’ve come a long way.”

And of course the students themselves celebrated their milestone. Many waved to family and friends or simply pumped a fist when they received their diploma.

It’s a testament to the dedication of the students themselves, including Grand Meadow’s Alejandra Harmening.

Harmening struggled with classes before coming to SMEC, but the tears in her eyes Thursday was proof of her accomplishments.

“It feels good because I’ve come a long way,” she said. “I fell behind in my classes. They helped me get to this place and they really helped me get back on my feet.”