Riverland graduation: Students demonstrate stories of hope and resilience

Published 10:02 am Saturday, May 11, 2024

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AUSTIN — Friday night’s 83rd Riverland Community College commencement held a number of powerful moments, but among the more powerful moments was President Dr. Kat Linaker’s demonstration of the graduate’s achievements.

Going down a list, Linaker asked students to stand when they met the criteria requested by RCC’s first-year president in a list of questions. Are you first in your family to go to college? Were you raising a family while attending Riverland? Are you a member of LGBTQ+ community just to name a few.

By the time she was through, close to all if not all of the graduates were standing, meeting Linaker’s overall request for the students to tell their own story.

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“Turn and look at all of the people here today,” Linaker said after the graduates were standing. “We are all here to honor you and your achievement. Continue sharing your story to inspire others.”

In total, Riverland’s Class of 2024 graduated 567 students, 309 of which took part in Friday night’s ceremony, held once again in Austin High School’s Knowlton Auditorium.

But Linaker’s demonstration of resilience and fortitude was only a part of the incredible stories told Friday night.

In each of the three student speakers was a different story told in a different way, but with the same outcome.

For Austin’s Danielle Hernandez-Miller, the ceremony was the culmination of her third attempt at secondary education and the Austin High School graduate took the opportunity to look back at the two previous attempts.

However, it was that second attempt that provided her with the motivation to try again after a daughter was diagnosed with a rare illness. The impact of the social workers during that time prompted her to work toward degrees in clinical social work.

“I thought I would never finish college,” Hernandez-Miller admitted. “Because of this, my mindset changed. I began telling myself I know I can do this.”

She urged students to never give up.

“Continue to chase your dreams and make a difference in this world,” she said.

Mallory Rose, Community Outreach coordinator for the Albert Lea Family YMCA had her own challenges on the way to Friday night. Raising a family with her husband Kenny and working, Rose talked about the uncertainty of this moment.

“Yet here I am,” she said.

She continued by stressing the difference an education can make and how the impacts on life can come quicker than many might think.

“One thing we all have in common is a desire to learn,” she said. “The education received at Riverland has already made a difference in my career.”

Friday night’s narrative continued through the third speaker, Sarah Deng, who is the first person in her family to graduate from a college. Born during the height of the civil war in South Sudan, Deng attributed her journey to the graduation stage as one defined by hope.

“Somehow I am here thanks to hope, kindness and resilience,” she said. “I hoped that someday I would make a difference in my life and that’s what matters.”

“Thanks to Riverland, here I am today, standing tall making my dreams come true,” she later added.