At Metropolitan Community College’s commencement ceremony May 17, Justin Kelleher will be receiving his associate in computer science degree … three days after graduating from high school.
But he’ll be doing more than walking across the MCC stage that night. Kelleher will also be the student speaker — the first student commencement speaker in the seven years since MCC started holding one unified ceremony for all campuses.
“It’s going to be an exciting night for me,” says Kelleher, who will also turn 19 the week of his two graduations.
MCC commencement will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 17, at Municipal Auditorium downtown. In addition to Kelleher, MCC alumnus Charlie Shields, CEO of Truman Medical Centers, will address the Class of 2018.
The MCC commencement committee decided to have the student speaker come from MCC-Longview this year, mirroring Longview’s status as first to march in the processional at this year’s ceremony. The order rotates each year.
The process for choosing the student speaker got underway early this semester and concluded April 24. Tyler Reeder was named runner-up.
Kelleher, who has been working on his speech’s content and delivery with MCC-Longview speech instructor Bill Cue, says his theme will be embracing discomfort. “That’s when you’ll find success, opportunities and happiness.”
He was selected for the early-college Missouri Innovation Campus program as a junior at Lee’s Summit North High School. MIC is a partnership of MCC, Lee’s Summit R-7 Schools and the University of Central Missouri. Participants receive long-term, paid internships in high-demand industries — in Kelleher’s case, in the research and development department at DST Systems — and upon MCC graduation transfer to the University of Central Missouri.
Kelleher plans to graduate in two years with a UCM baccalaureate degree and then work as a software developer.
He spent his junior year taking regular high school classes at Lee’s Summit North and night classes at MCC-Longview. Most of his senior year has been spent at Longview.
“It’s been a lot of work” and very fast-paced, Kelleher says. “I’ve definitely learned a lot of skills that a classroom environment can’t teach,” he says of the internship. He works 16 hours a week at DST during the school year but goes full time in the summer.
As for being a high school student on a college campus, “at first it was intimidating,” he says, “but I got used to it and made a lot of new friends here. PTK really helped me get out of my bubble and meet people.”
PTK is Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for two-year colleges. Kelleher has been vice president of service for MCC-Longview’s PTK chapter. In that role, he has organized volunteer opportunities for members, including staffing the Grocery Hub, a food pantry for the Longview community.
He was honored recently by Lee’s Summit North for his outstanding record of community service, much of that at the HELP Humane animal shelter in Belton, where he is adoption event coordinator and trains volunteers who work with dogs.
“I am not paid but they basically consider me an employee,” he says.