Every grad has a story: MCC commencement is May 17 at Municipal Auditorium

Metropolitan Community College will hold its 102nd commencement exercises Wednesday, May 17, at Municipal Auditorium, 301 W. 13th St. downtown. With family and friends on hand, attendance is expected to exceed 4,000.

The ceremony begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are not required. Doors open at 5, when each campus will welcome graduates with refreshments and opportunities for professional photos. [ More details here, including parking info and guidelines for graduate attire ]

This year, 2,575 MCC students applied to graduate, a number that includes Fall 2016 grads as well as students planning to complete studies in Spring and Summer 2017.

MCC will confer a variety of associate degrees — including more than 1,600 associate in arts degrees and more than 600 associate in applied science degrees — as well as more than 600 certificates (for career programs typically completed in a year or less). Many of the new associate degree holders will be transferring to four-year institutions.

Students who participate in the ceremony will pick up more than diplomas — they’ll also receive medallions of the MCC seal, created in observance of the College’s 100th birthday in 2015.

MCC Chancellor Mark James, the featured speaker at this year’s commencement, congratulates a student at the 2016 ceremony. (Photo by Matt Scharhag/MCC)

The featured speaker for the 2017 commencement ceremony will be MCC Chancellor Mark James, who is retiring June 30 after serving in the College’s top leadership post since 2010.

Among the 2017 MCC graduates:

+ Clayton White, MCC-Longview in Lee’s Summit, who has been working off and on toward his associate degree for nearly 30 years. What spurred White, now 48, to keep going? His mom, Geneva (an MCC alum), who told him a week before she died in 2006 that she wanted him to finish his education. “Wild horses couldn’t keep me from it,” White says of MCC’s commencement exercises.

+ Emma Thoman, who started at MCC-Maple Woods in Kansas City North at the age of 16. Thoman was being home-schooled, so “it was a big difference for me to go into a classroom.” After a year at Maple Woods she became a peer mentor, which drew her out of her shell. “She has been an inspiration and motivation for many students she has mentored,” says lead counselor Clayton Robinson. Thoman, now 19, is the fourth and final child in her family to attend MCC-Maple Woods before going on to a four-year school.

+ Alex Drescanu, MCC-Penn Valley’s Health Science Institute, who moved to Kansas City after meeting and falling in love with then TV news anchor Elizabeth Alex, who was in his native Romania doing a story on a local medical missions group. He was her interpreter. Drescanu says he was inspired to enroll in MCC’s associate degree in nursing program not only because of the work he’s seen American doctors and nurses do overseas, but also because he feels his mom received poor care in Romania while battling rheumatoid arthritis. She died at age 50. Next time he takes part in a medical mission trip to Romania, it will be as a nurse.

+ Traycie Williams, MCC-Blue River in Independence, who managed to turn his life around after spending half of his 20s behind bars. “Not only did he not have the advantages many have in their younger years, he rose above challenges that usually destroy people,” says Dee Mathison, an MCC instructor. Williams says the Blue River campus is “probably the closest thing to roots I’ve ever had.” Not only is he graduating, but earlier this year he was the only MCC student to make the 10-member top tier of the 2017 All-Missouri Academic Team.

+ Joshua and Katrina Bocanegra, who enrolled at MCC-Longview in Lee’s Summit at the same time (Fall 2014), took several classes together, made the Dean’s List and will “walk” at MCC commencement together. They met while working at a coffee shop in Kansas City and married in 2011. Each now plans to transfer to a four-year university. Earning their MCC associate degrees is “definitely a road marker for both of us,” Joshua says. “It’s definitely not a stopping point. It’s more of a comma.”

+ Mark Driscoll, MCC-Blue River in Independence, is excited to see what pops next for him and his friends. Driscoll and a group of buddies (several with MCC roots) are celebrating the first year of their successful soda pop company, Atomic Fizz. The company was just accepted into the business hatchery program at Drake University for the summer. “We are looking forward to learning and growing together as individuals, as well as a team,” says Driscoll.

+ David Valdez, MCC-Business & Technology, who will be earning his associate in applied science in computer-aided drafting and design degree. Valdez is technically an intern this semester, but the company — Sega Inc. in Stilwell, Kan., which designs power plants — has already hired him full time. Valdez is well-known on the Business & Technology campus for designing a device (using a 3-D printer) that allowed a little boy born without a hand to ride a bike for the first time, a story that made national headlines.

+ Dustin Weedman, a student in the MCC-Penn Valley Health Science Institute’s occupational therapy program, demonstrated compassion by stopping to help students in a school bus wreck in Liberty last February. “He just has that caring nature, always willing to go above and beyond and help whoever needed help,” says Amber Jenkins, coordinator of MCC’s occupational therapy assistant program. Weedman says he is a “credit to the people I’ve been able to glean from,” a product of “phenomenal, caring, intelligent people.”

+ 46 Kansas City Public Schools students are earning MCC associate degrees in addition to their high school diplomas. The Early College Academy program, launched in 2011, gives qualified, highly motivated high school juniors and seniors the chance to attend college full time on the MCC-Penn Valley campus.

+ 16 students enrolled at the Missouri Innovation Campus in Lee’s Summit, another early college program, will also be graduating. The innovation campus — a collaboration of MCC-Longview, Lee’s Summit R-7 School District and the University of Central Missouri — is focused on the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math) and provides an opportunity for qualified, highly motivated high school students to earn an MCC associate degree and, two years later, a UCM bachelor’s degree. They also receive paid internships from high-tech companies.

In addition to those two programs, another 14 early college students are graduating from MCC’s Blue River, Maple Woods and Longview campuses (76 early college graduates this year in all).

MCC officials participating in the exercises will include the three vice chancellors — Carlos Peñaloza (Academic Affairs), Kathrine Swanson (Student Success and Engagement) and Shelley Temple Kneuvean (Financial and Administrative Services) — as well as the presidents and deans of each campus.

Each participating graduate’s name will be announced.

This is the sixth year MCC has held a unified commencement ceremony for grads from all five campuses. Prior to that, the campuses held their own graduation programs.

Metropolitan Community College was founded as the Kansas City Polytechnic Institute in 1915. The first commencement program was June 6, 1916, when eight junior college students and 15 high school students graduated (the Institute included a high school program). Students with credit hours from other colleges had transferred to the Polytechnic Institute that first year, which accounts for why the two-year college held its first graduation in 1916 instead of 1917.