COLUMBIA — Family and friends shouted words of encouragement as 533 Columbia College graduates marched into Southwell Gymnasium Saturday afternoon to receive their diplomas.
The first ceremony began at noon for master, associate and day-campus baccalaureate candidates, followed by a 3:30 p.m. ceremony for evening, online and nationwide students.
Celebrating among the noon graduates was Maria Omondi, a Kenya native who graduated with degrees in biology and chemistry, earning summa cum laude honors for both.
"Wonderful," screamed Omondi, describing what it was like to be on stage receiving her diploma.
Omondi said her first couple years in Columbia were the hardest because of the adjustment to a new environment. The opportunity to study at Columbia College, however, was too great to pass up.
She said it was even more special to have her family make the 24-hour flight from Kenya to Missouri to see her graduate.
Omondi will attend medical school after graduation, but is not sure where at the moment. Her dream school is Duke University.
"Who knows what the future holds?" Omondi said.
Susan Wilson Solovic served as commencement speaker for both ceremonies. Solovic, a 1980 Columbia College graduate, has authored books about women in business, including "The Girls' Guide to Power and Success," and is also a business contributor for ABC and MSNBC.
Solovic told the graduates that "the only thing constant in this world is change."
"People who have been historically resistant to change have not led successful lives," Solovic said. She expressed to the graduates the importance of being constant learners and to keep up with the changing world.
She said it's important for the graduates not to settle for being "good enough," which is a level of commitment that is no longer acceptable.
In the pursuit of excellence, Solovic said never to be afraid of failure, as all successful people have faced adversity throughout their lives. "You're going to stub your toe. The difference is you will have to fail fast and fail forward," Solovic said.
Solovic ended her speech by telling the graduates to "stand up for what you believe in" and never compromise their "core values."
In addition to receiving their diplomas, graduates Tara Laws and Milos Milosavljevic were honored with the Presidential Award. The award is given to students who have a cumulative GPA of 4.0 and have completed all their coursework at Columbia College.
Waiting outside the gymnasium door, Sherry Phillips said she was nervous for the second ceremony to begin.
Phillips has served as a librarian for the Hannibal Public Schools for the last three years. She earned her degree in history and wants to use it to teach middle school.
"All the hard work is paying off," Phillips said.