College town greets new graduates

MU, Columbia College host ceremonies for hundreds.
Sunday, December 19, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:12 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Jessica Poore lost 144 family members Saturday.

Poore was among scores of students to graduate from the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources during an afternoon ceremony at the Hearnes Center.

It was a bittersweet moment, she said.

“CAFNR is a big family, and this graduation is a testament to that,” she said. “The speakers, teachers and even deans are walking around and shaking hands like old friends.”

The college was one of several to hold commencement ceremonies at MU on Friday and Saturday, where 1,904 diplomas were awarded. Columbia College, meanwhile, gave diplomas to 550 students from its local and extended campuses.

At the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources ceremony, Paul Vaughn, associate dean and director of academic programs, lauded the accomplishments of students, faculty and staff.

“CAFNR has proved to be the best of the best,” he said. “We lead all academic units in retention and graduation rates.”

Leroy VanDyke, a nationally recognized country singer and auctioneer, was the keynote speaker for the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. He attributed his success to the lessons he learned and the connections he made at MU. He advised the students and the audience alike to “find something you like to do so well you’ll do it for nothing. Then find a way to make money doing it. Then you’ll have it made.”

Also Saturday, students from the MU School of Law and the Colleges of Arts and Science, Business, Engineering and Human Environmental Sciences received diplomas. The Sinclair School of Nursing, the School of Journalism, the College of Education and the Graduate School conferred degrees on Friday.

Commencement weekend included an ROTC commissioning ceremony at Memorial Union on Saturday morning. Fourteen ROTC members — 13 from MU and one from Columbia College — received their first assignments as new officers after earning degrees in a variety of fields, including atmospheric sciences, psychology, computer science and international studies.

One of the new officers, 2nd Lt. Lindsey Fennewald, will take an atmospheric sciences degree to Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, S.C. Even in a time of conflict, Fennewald said she couldn’t be more excited.

“I’m not too worried about it,” she said about the potential for going to war.

Navy Ensign Charles Southard has been assigned to Nuclear Power School in Charleston, S.C., and will then be assigned to submarine duty. Southard’s wife and two children will remain in Columbia while he completes his six-year Navy obligation.

Southard has already been in the military for 10 years but returned to school to earn a degree and an officer’s commission. At one point, he was stationed with his family in Guam in what he calls “a tropical vacation.”

The commissioning ceremony included representatives from all four military branches — Navy, Army, Marine Corps and Air Force. In his keynote remarks, Rear Admiral J. Stanton Thompson reminded the new officers of the overwhelming responsibility bestowed upon them.

“Remember, you are leading people into danger,” he said, “and if you’re not on the top of your game, lives can be lost.”

At Columbia College, Debi Comegys was realizing a lifelong dream. Comegys, 48, has worked in the nursing field since she was in high school. Although she had more than two decades of experience, first as a nurse’s aide and later as a licensed practical nurse, Comegys said she always wanted to earn a degree.

“I’m excited,” she said. “I’ve wanted to do this forever, and I did it.”

Comegys was one of 26 students to receive an associate’s degree in nursing. The class was the first to complete the school’s new dual-track program, which offers a “bridge track” for licensed practical nurses and a generic track for students with no previous nursing education. The generic track is new, said Mary Kennish, director of the nursing program.

Comegys, who lives near Boonville with her husband, Dan, has been a licensed practical nurse at Truman Veterans Hospital for about 20 years. The mother of three and grandmother of one said she hopes her college education will make her a better nurse.

“I’ve always wanted to do it, just so that I could better help folks, have more knowledge about what I’m doing,” she said. “I’ll just be able to do more.”

About 300 graduates participated in Saturday’s ceremony at Columbia College, spokeswoman Michelle Gleba said.

Navy Capt. Kathryn M. Hobbs, commanding officer at Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois and chief of staff for the Navy Region Midwest, was the keynote speaker. A 1978 graduate of Columbia College, she received the school’s Distinguished Alumni Award and encouraged the graduates to use their education to make the world a better place.

“Your degree from this institution is a gift,” she said.

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