Stephens graduates celebrate commencement, look forward to next stage

Saturday, May 10, 2014 | 9:32 p.m. CDT; updated 10:43 p.m. CDT, Saturday, May 10, 2014
Stephens College held its commencement ceremony for its graduating candidates Saturday at the Missouri Theatre.

COLUMBIA — When Holly Hmielewski came to Stephens College, she didn't know how to thread a sewing machine. Now, she is preparing to move to Los Angeles to work for a design company.

Hmielewski was among 88 undergraduate students who celebrated their commencement from the college Saturday morning at the Missouri Theatre.

Shortly before Saturday's ceremony, Hmielewski stood among her graduating class at Historic Senior Hall, as the women took pictures with friends and family.

Hmielewski, a fashion design and product development student, said she was trying to digest the moment.

"I'm actually pretty tired,"Hmielewski said. "It hasn't all kicked in yet.

Other undergraduates shared the sentiment.

"Walking across the stage is such an easy thing to do, but we make such a big deal about it," Effie Frank said. "I think it will finally hit me during the ceremony."

Frank came to Stephens from Iowa and spent her senior year designing her own fashion collection, which won best collection at the Stephens College student fashion show.

Other students said before the commencement that they would miss Stephens but are looking forward to the new chapter of their lives.

"It's been the best time of my life so far," said Jordan Jackson, who is from St. Louis.

"I can't believe it's been this long, but mama, we made it!" said Tyler Smith, who is also from St. Louis.

Saturday's commencement did not have a guest speaker and instead featured a video celebrating the graduates and faculty. Patrika Brown, one of the graduates, spoke to her class and urged them to "go out there and be bold" and to not forget their Stephens roots.

"No matter how high the tree climbs, remember the roots are in the soil," she said. "I'll take a few minutes to let you guys tweet that and post it on social media," she said as the crowd laughed.

As the women walked across the stage to accept their degrees, many parents and family members cheered for their graduates. Shamel Robinson's family brought photos of her face to attached to sticks, which they waved wildly as she accepted her degree.

A separate commencement was held on Friday night for graduate students at Kimball Ballroom of Lela Raney Wood Hall on the Stephens campus.

Overall, President Dianne Lynch conferred 119 bachelor's degrees, 41 master's degrees and three post-baccalaureate certificates, according to a Stephens College news release.

After the ceremony was over, Hmielewski said she felt accomplished walking across the stage. For as tired as she was, she still got emotional during the video celebrating her and her classmates.

"I was pretty much crying through the whole thing," she said.

Hmielewski will be moving to Los Angeles Monday to start work as a design room assistant for Clover Canyon, a design company. Hmielewski said it was her dream to work for the company.

So far, she hasn't processed the fact that she's now a Stephens graduate and is about to start the next stage of her life in California.

"I think it will really kick in when I'm on the airplane or in Los Angeles," she said. 

Supervising editor is Edward Hart.

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