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Mitchell Technical College's 54th graduating class bids farewell at Friday ceremonies

Hard work, persistence brought latest class through challenges, Heemstra says

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Rapid City's Ethan Byrd and family pose for a photo after the Mitchell Technical College graduation ceremony at the Corn Palace on May 6, 2022.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic
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MITCHELL — Speaking to the graduates at the Mitchell Technical College morning commencement program at the Corn Palace, John Heemstra reflected on the challenges the class has endured during its time on the technical college campus.

Those challenges were considerable, he said.

“If you mention to someone in the years ahead, they may look at you with amazement and say ‘you went to college during the COVID-19 pandemic? How did you accomplish that?’” Heemstra, the vice president of operations and human resources at Mitchell Technical College, told the audience. “You can say perseverance, endurance and doing what you needed to do every day to keep moving forward toward your goal of graduation.”

Heemstra was the commencement speaker at the first of three Mitchell Tech graduation ceremonies held Friday, May 6. He spoke before one faction of the 445 total graduates moving on from the school this year. Of those, 318 earned associates degrees, 130 earned diplomas or certificates and three individuals earned more than one degree or diploma.

The COVID-19 pandemic defined a good portion of this year’s graduates’ college life, but that time could also be defined by the hard work and dedication put in by those students to overcome the obstacles the pandemic put in front of them, Heemstra said.

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“In spite of those challenges and occasional setbacks, you continued to go to class, sometimes remotely, took tests, practiced your skills in the lab, completed internships and ultimately developed the skills to be successful in a technical career,” Heemstra said.

Heemstra, who has worked at Mitchell Technical College since 1995, said this would also be his last year at the school, wrapping up a 26-year career at the college that has seen myriad changes and expansions over the years.

There will be more challenges out there, he said, but instead of letting those challenges stand in the way, he encouraged the graduates to take any lessons from them they can, and always be ready to listen to advice and constructive criticism. He recalled once being "chewed out" by his commanding officer during his service in the U.S. Army in 1978. Heemstra said he was sure his military career was over.

But his commanding officer did more than just give him a dressing down.

“Fortunately my commander was a great leader and helped me learn from that mistake, gain confidence and he ultimately gave me more responsibilities and opportunities to learn, which led me to an army career of almost 18 years,” Heemstra said.

He said it’s important to acknowledge the contributions of people like that in our lives, as they often are the ones that help you across the finish line on the way to our goals.

“Take time to say thank you to your parents, spouse, significant other, classmates, Mitchell Tech instructors or anyone else who gave you that encouragement, nudge or even a boot in the rear when it was needed to get you to this day,” Heemstra said.

Like these graduates, Heemstra’s time at the school is drawing to a close, but he knows Mitchell Tech students will continue to impact the world and the workforce as they move on to the next stage.

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Scenes from the Mitchell Technical College graduation ceremony at the Corn Palace on May 6, 2022.
Adam Thury / Mitchell Republic

“It’s been my honor to have been part of Mitchell Technical College for the past 26 years. Best wishes for your continued success in the future,” Heemstra said.

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.
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