Penguins Waddle to the Finish Line: Clark Grads Look to the Future

Michele Goulder (Andy Bao/The Independent)

With this year’s graduation just around the corner, many students will be moving on from Clark and into new opportunities.

As those students move out into the world, many will recognize that their success was rooted in small things like late night drudgery, microwave meals and parking space struggles.

Michelle Golder’s advice to the 1,327 students scheduled to graduate from Clark this spring and summer was to “keep finding a goal, keep striving for something.”

Golder, Clark’s special projects and activities manager and organizer of the June 22 commencement ceremony, advised graduates to propel themselves toward the future based off of their ambitions.

“Don’t forget that feeling that you’re feeling now,” Golder said. “After all that hard work, you face a challenge, and once you reach that goal, you’re so relieved.”

Part of what makes achieving goals like graduation so rewarding is the years of concentrated effort it took to get there, according to Abigail Volk, the student speaker chosen for the commencement ceremony.

Volk, a student ambassador on campus, said she shaped her speech to appeal to the most students she could, and the theme that best united students was what they went through to graduate together.

“I talk a lot about things that we go through on a regular basis, like hard classes that we take, or late nights that we stay up, things like that,” Volk said.

Abigail Volk (Andy Bao/The Independent)

The learning environment at Clark is an amazing opportunity for students to prepare for their futures, Volk said.

“I wouldn’t have been able to function, or I might have been overwhelmed at a four-year university right off the bat,” Volk said.

While many students like Volk use their Clark experience to continue educations elsewhere, even more students will not complete degree or certificate. Among students who enrolled in 2013, only 18 percent completed a certificate or degree within three years, according to data provided by Julie Robertson, a research professional in Clark’s Planning and Effectiveness department.

While there are those who don’t complete at all, there are also students who complete and don’t even know it, Associate Director of Advising Services John Maduta said.

Maduta said that Enrollment Services ran a test in the fall that highlighted a group of students completing AA transfer degrees. “We found 80 students in that pile that were either near completion early on, or set to complete but hadn’t applied for graduation,” Maduta said.

Maduta looks forward to an internal policy change that would allow the department to auto-award students who complete degrees, rather than asking the students to navigate the system on their own.  

“If a student is complete, there’s no way to award a diploma currently without having the student prompt us,” Maduta said.

Although Maduta said completions are down this year due to the enrollment crisis, Golder said the number of students walking at the ceremony keeps increasing. There were around 350 students walking the first time she coordinated the ceremony 10 years ago, but this year she expects around 750 students to attend, with around 5,000-6,000 guests.

With the ceremony approaching, Golder hopes that Clark has done its job for each student.

“Everybody comes in with their own hopes, dreams and goals when they come to Clark, so my hope would be that they’ve all achieved whatever their individual goals are,” Golder said.

Volk, who will be returning to Clark for another year to obtain a second degree before transferring to Seattle Pacific University, placed a lot of weight on sweat and tears.

“I think when you’re really passionate about something, you can succeed anything if you work really hard,” Volk said.

Volk advised incoming students to be engaged and courageous. She emphasized the importance of reaching out.

“In the beginning, I could have gotten a lot more help, but I didn’t ask questions . . . if you ask questions, at least you’re working to find things out instead of assuming everything,” Volk said. “Just know that you have a support system, and the campus is designed to help students.”

The graduation ceremony will be held at the Sunlight Supply Ampitheater on June 22, at 7 p.m. No tickets are necessary.

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