Wallace State Celebrates Commencement for Class of 2023

May 12, 2023Gail Crutchfield
2023 Graduation

Wallace State President Dr. Vicki Karolewics addresses graduates at one of two ceremonies held for more than 600 students.

Hanceville, AL — Wallace State Community College and President Dr. Vicki Karolewics celebrated the college’s commencement in Traditions Bank Arena of Tom Drake Coliseum. Two ceremonies were held, with Academics and Applied Technologies graduates honored in a morning ceremony and Health Science graduates honored in the afternoon.

“Graduates, we congratulate you as you conclude this passage of life’s journey and embark on the next,” said Dr. Karolewics.

Nearly 2,300 degrees and certificates were awarded to the Class of 2023, with more than 600 participating in the May ceremonies.

“Breathe a collective sigh of relief,” Dr. Karolewics added. “You made it. Today, we celebrate your success, and we excitedly anticipate tomorrow as we watch your journey continue to unfold.”

Dr. Karolewics shared the stories of several graduates during the ceremonies, “because they embody the richness and diversity of the students we serve and the dreams that each of you has for your future,” she said.

Ambre Harris

Ambre Harris

Friday marked only the third time Harris came to the Wallace State campus. She completed an associate degree in business administration taking all of her classes online.

Harris has worked at the Arab Public Library for 14 years total, taking a few years off to raise her children. During that time away, her replacement at the library was promoted to library director, a job she realized she would have loved to have had. She said she doesn’t regret taking the time to raise her children, but wanted to ensure when the opportunity arose next time, that she would be ready.

Harris is currently taking online classes at Athens State University and plans to pursue a master’s degree in library science.

Jessica Aguilar

Jessica Guadalupe Rosales Aguilar

Aguilar’s instructors in the Criminal Justice program say she is driven to succeed. No one will hold her back. Aguilar says she inherited that drive from her parents, who migrated from Mexico with her three older siblings before she was born, all of them earning United States citizenship. 

Aguilar is the first of her siblings to graduate from college. She has excelled while at Wallace State. She is graduating with a 3.74 GPA and has received multiple awards and honors, including the Outstanding Service Award for Work Students, a Criminal Justice Program Award and Who’s Who Among WSCC Students. She is a two-time state SkillsUSA gold medalist in Crime Scene Investigation, and will again compete in the national SkillsUSA competition, where last year she became the college’s first national gold medalist in Crime Scene Investigation.

After graduation, she plans to join the National Guard to serve in the Military Police and leaves in July for basic training. She will continue her education at Jacksonville State University. Her ultimate goal is to work with the Drug Enforcement Agency.  

Aguilar was named the winner of the Presidential Award for Academic Excellence.

Desirae Corbin

Desirae Corbin

Corbin had originally planned to enter the Welding program in 2021, but her dream was deferred when she and most of her family were stricken with COVID. At 19, she was hospitalized for three weeks, including two weeks on a ventilator.

One of the ongoing side effects of her battle with COVID is loss of movement and continued numbness on the lower portion of her right leg.

She didn’t let any of that keep her from her dream. She enrolled in the Welding program in Spring 2022, the same program for which her great-grandfather Manuel “Cupp” Jackson was an instructor.

Chandler Smith

Chandler Smith

Smith’s faith initially led him to think of pursuing a career in the ministry, but he found a calling in serving others through a love of cooking, creating, and especially making stir-fry and handmade pasta. Friday, he graduated with a degree in Culinary Arts.

Smith expressed his appreciation to his instructors and mentioned how much he has enjoyed his time at Wallace State. He knows how to appreciate the good times because he has had more than his share challenges. When Smith was 9 years old, he developed bacterial meningitis that resulted in a stroke that resulted in his being in a coma for a month. Smith was given just a two percent chance of survival and spent several months in the hospital. The stroke affected the right side of his brain, affected his senses, and left him with permanent loss of hearing and vision. 

Smith has been a hard-worker and go-getter his entire life, channeling his autism. Smith says that college has shown him that it doesn’t matter if you have autism, it doesn’t matter if you are deaf in one ear, don’t place limits on what you can achieve. At Wallace State he has not only been part of the Culinary Pride Club, but he was also elected as vice president of the Alabama Skills USA Organization.  

Audrey Duboise

Audrey Duboise

Living with psoriatic arthritis, Duboise was faced with extra challenges while pursuing her General Studies degree.

There were many mornings where she was in tears, she said, especially during the winter months, when it felt like every inflamed joint was being attacked by the cold weather. With the help and support of instructors LaTisha Jackson and Jackie Donaldson, who provided her with daily encouragement, were forgiving and patient when she needed to take time away for doctors’ appointments and asked her every day how she was doing and if she needed anything, Duboise was able to make it through each day to complete her degree.

Duboise plans to transfer to the University of North Alabama, where she will pursue a nursing degree, with an ultimate goal of becoming a nurse practitioner.

Michael McWilliams

Michael McWilliams

McWilliams didn’t think he would make it to the age of 18, much less earn a college degree. McWilliams grew up in one of the most high-crime areas of Birmingham, surrounded by violence, drugs and gangs.

But McWilliams said God sent him an angel in the form of Stephanie Beal, a new foster mother who became his real mother when she adopted at 16 years of age.  McWilliams said she always spoke life into him, motivated him and gave him a true mother’s love, and she led by example, he said.

McWilliams joined the Army in 2009 and served eight years, including two tours overseas. He suffered some setback after his military service, including the death of his 3-year-old daughter in a drunk-driving accident and homelessness after completing rehab.

But he was never deterred from achieving his goals. In 2020, he enrolled at Wallace State and tonight he earns a degree in Business Management. He is now an entrepreneur and enjoying great success he attributes to the knowledge gained at Wallace State.

Grayton Green

Grayton Green

Green was pivotal to the engagement of our student body as President of WSCC Rotaract, Vice President of Phi Theta Kappa, Treasurer of the WSCC Student Government Association, a Lion Leader, a member of Campus Ministries, and a student employee in the Wallace State Tutoring Lab. He also has a 4.0 GPA and is a member of the All-Alabama Academic Team.

Green plans to transfer to UAB where he has received a UAB Presidential Transfer Scholarship. He plans to major in neuroscience and eventually join the United States Air Force.  

Amber Burford

Amber Burford

Twenty years ago, Burford never thought she would be graduating from college today. At that point in her life, she was struggling with addiction, housing insecurity, and doing her best to keep her son from living the same life she had as a child of someone with a substance abuse problem – even if that meant he had to live away from her.

There were many things that could have held her back – a fire that forced her to move in with an abuser and her own 10-year addiction. But the upcoming birth of a second child convinced her she needed to do better for her children.

For 10 years, Amber worked at a medical practice in Birmingham, helping others suffering from addiction, which helped her heal and kept her accountable. Now, as a nurse, she can continue to provide that help on a greater level.

Laura Allen

Laura Allen

Laura Allen is realizing a long-held dream of becoming a nurse. For nearly 15 years, she has worked as unit secretary in the NICU at St. Vincent’s in Birmingham. It’s a dream that was put off several times, but one she never gave up on.

She was inspired by a woman named Patty Smith, who adopted Allen’s first child who was born to her at the age of 15. Smith is also a graduate of Wallace State’s Nursing program, and she became a mother figure to Allen, as well as mother to her biological child.

When the time was finally right to start nursing school, Allen looked no further than Wallace State. Allen will continue to work in the NICU of St. Vincent’s Hospital, now as a nurse instead of the unit secretary.

Nick Cater

Nick Cater

Cater earned his degree from Wallace State’s Respiratory Therapy program, overcoming the challenges of a genetic condition that causes severe vision loss. He was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a rare eye disease that affects the retina. RP makes cells in the retina break down slowly over time, causing vision loss. His current vision is 20/200, which means he would need to stand 20 feet away from something that most people can see from 200 feet away.

Cater has not let his condition stand in the way of his goal of earning a degree. He has 3.37 GPA, and received exceptional clinical reviews that almost always mention how he asks great questions and is eager to learn from his preceptors.

Natalie Morphis Lofton Morphis

Natalie and Lofton Morphis

Sisters Natalie and Lofton Morphis each completed a certificate in Polysomnographic (Sleep Study) Technology. They have an aunt who introduced them to the field, and both decided to pursue the certificate together.

Natalie said she was drawn to polysomnography because she is not a big fan of sticking people with needles or drawing blood. For Lofton, it was attraction of entering a high demand career in the workforce after just two semesters of college study. 

Both already have jobs in the high demand filed.

Physical Therapist Assistant graduates

Graduates of the Wallace State Physical Therapist Assistant program were recognized for their participation in an international virtual exchange project. CLICK, Collaborative Learning for International Capabilities and Knowledge, paired 25 Wallace State students were with 22 electrical engineering students in an English class at IUT-Toulon in France. They were tasked to make improvements to equipment or devices used in physical therapy.  Students learned how to listen, communicate and collaborate with students from another country and for whom English was not their first language.=.

Special awards were presented to students chosen for the Presidential Award for students in the Academic, Applied Technology and Health Science divisions. These awards go to students of superior achievement in each area and are the highest academic honors presented at graduation.

Criminal Justice graduate Jessica Guadalupe Rosales Aguilar was presented the Presidential Award for Academic Excellence. Machine Tool Technology graduate Johnson Sellnow received the Presidential Award for Technical Excellence. Nursing graduate Peter Howell received the Presidential Award for Health Excellence.

Kristen Holmes, Vice President for Students, gave special recognition to students who were wearing medals received during the college’s Honors Night for program excellence, leadership, and service, as well as recognizing members of Phi Theta Kappa national honor society, Sigma Kappa Delta English honorary society, Mu Alpha Theta mathematics honorary society, Kappa Beta Delta business honor society, state SkillsUSA medalists, Wallace State athletes, and other honor graduates with GPAs of 3.5 or higher. She also recognized Veterans in the student body.

Music was provided by the Wallace State Concert Choir and Concert Band. Student Rayce Cleghorn sang “America” for both audiences. 

Makenzie Walker, General Studies graduate and SGA President, offered the invocation. 

Suzanne Harbin, Vice President for Advancement and Innovation, provided the benediction.  

Platform guests included Lisa German, Vice President for Learning; Dr. Beth Bownes-Johnson, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Applied Technologies; Jerry Murcks, Associate Dean of Applied Technologies; Matthew McFall, Chief Information Officer; Jim Malone, Assistant Dean of Health Sciences, Whit Rice, Master of Ceremonies.   Other special guests from the Alabama Community College System and others were also recognized.

Wallace State has educated hundreds of thousands of students since opening its doors, and tens of thousands have had degrees conferred. The college is nationally recognized for its work in student success. Wallace State was founded 60 years ago in 1963 and, along with the Alabama Community College System, is celebrating its Diamond Jubilee.

Both events were livestreamed.

View recording of Academic and Applied Technology Ceremony here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUOwQD5rLJg

View recording of Health Science Ceremony here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9olOplQqFU

View photos from the Academic and Applied Technology Ceremony here: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjADuzM

View photos from the Health Science Ceremony here: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjADuzM

Presidential Award for Excellence in Applied Technology

Machine Tool Technology graduate Johnson Sellnow received the Presidential Award for Technical Excellence.

Presidential Award for Excellence in Health Science

Nursing graduate Peter Howell received the Presidential Award for Health Excellence.

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