Anything is Possible: Riverland holds 82nd commencement

Published 7:36 pm Friday, May 12, 2023

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Riverland Community College on Friday held its 82nd commencement ceremony, split into two sessions — an afternoon and evening session.

This year’s graduating class consisted of 634 students, 333 of which took place between both sessions.

“As a community college, we have inspired personal success through higher education for 82 years,” said RCC President Dr. Adenuga Atewologun, who will be retiring at the end of June after 10 years with the school. 

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“For most of the students completing their college experience, it was not a solo effort,” he added in recognition of friends and family who helped students along the way.

A variety of speakers took the podium Friday afternoon to honor this year’s graduates, including student speakers, business instructor Deb McManimon, keynote speaker Third Judicial District Chief Judge Joseph Bueltel and Jim Grabowska, who sits on the Board of Trustees of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.

“We are so very proud of your dedication and perseverance,” he commented, adding that all those working in the system believe in the student’s bright and bold futures moving forward. “All of us are celebrating with you today because we believe in higher education’s ability to change lives.”

There were five student speakers this year with Greg Larson, Bakary Max Njai and Zinsou Assogba speaking in the afternoon session and Judith Villar Lopez and Scarlett Tanner speaking in the evening session.

Larson was the first of the afternoon’s speakers and he spoke of the opportunities that Riverland afforded him on his way to earning his electrician/construction degree.

He said that RCC gave him direction following high school just as he was searching for what was next in life.

“That is when I decided I wanted to be an electrician,” he said, adding: “We chose to go back to school. All of you should be proud of what you have done.”

In going back to school, Larson said he was able to follow a career path with family connections, including a grandfather, George Larson, who was an electrician.

Even though he lamented that he never had the opportunity to work and learn from his grandfather, he knew how his grandfather would have felt knowing he followed in his footsteps.

“I believe he would be proud of me,” Larson said.

Even when a direction was known, it wasn’t always possible at early points in life for Friday’s graduates. For some it took a little longer.

“Going to school seemed like a luxury I couldn’t afford,” Njai said, who graduated from the school’s truck driving program. 

But after attending Riverland and graduating, Njai said he has now found his path in a wonderful career.

“I’m on my way,” he said.

Likewise, Assogba has also found his way through life thanks to Riverland. In 2020, he graduated with his construction electrician diploma and has since earned diplomas for welding, machining, industrial maintenance and mechanics and a manufacturing skills standards certificate.

Collectively, he reminded students of the gift they have all earned.

“Our success has given us the courage to continue our education,” he said. “Riverland has changed my life forever.”

However, he also pointed out that Riverland didn’t simply provide an education. He said that the degree students received Friday opened up the world before them.

“We are here today with a better understanding that everything is possible,” he said.