Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  Please tune in to FM 106.7 to hear today’s ceremony through your car radio.

I’m President David Roland Finley.  On behalf of the faculty, administration, and the Board of Trustees, I welcome you to North Central Michigan College, as we observe the 61st commencement of this great institution.  I am pleased that you are able to share this joyous and yet solemn occasion, whether in person or via YouTube recording, as we celebrate the accomplishments of the Class of 2021.

At this time, I ask that you remove any caps that are being worn as we sing our National Anthem.  I call upon our student, Zoe Moseler, to lead us in song.

Thank you, Zoe.  North Central Michigan College is fortunate to have an active and dedicated Board of Trustees that leads our efforts.  At this time, I would like to introduce the members of our Board of Trustees present and other members of the platform party.  Will you please stand as you are introduced?

Will you join me in recognizing these individuals for the important role they play in the life of this college?

The administrative leadership team also plays a very important role in the life of the college.  Please stand as I announce your name: Dr. Tom Zeidel, vice president of Finance and Facilities, Ms. Lynn Eckerle, Human Resources director, and Ms. Lea Dietzel, executive assistant to the president and Board of Trustees.  Additional leadership team members working behind the scenes today are Ms. Renee DeYoung, vice president of Student Affairs, and Ms. Carol Laenen, vice president of Marketing.  Ms. Chelsea Platte, executive director of the NCMC Foundation, is currently on maternity leave.  I also thank our academic deans, Michele Andrews, Jim Cousino, Sara Glasgow, and Brent LaFaive.

Will you please join me in recognizing all of these individuals?

I am also pleased to recognize key leaders from our three Early College partners.  Again, I ask that you hold your applause until all have been named.  From the Public Schools of Petoskey, Mr. Chris Parker, superintendent, and Ms. Mary Ling, Board president.  From Boyne City Public Schools, Mr. Patrick Little, superintendent, and Mr. Jeff Mercer, Board president.  And from Gaylord Community Schools, Mr. Brian Pearson, superintendent, and Mr. Jeff Wieber, Board president.

Will you join me in recognizing these individuals for their commitment to their students’ success and our Early College partnerships?

It’s often said that it takes a village.  This moment would not be possible without the commitment and dedication of the college’s outstanding full- and part-time faculty and staff.  At this time, I ask members of North Central’s faculty and staff who are present to stand and be recognized for their contributions to the college and to the Class of 2021.  It takes a village, and this is our village.

Two of these individuals were recently lauded for their exemplary teaching at the college’s annual Employee Recognition Tea.  We extend our congratulations to the recipients of the student-nominated, 2020 Faculty and Adjunct of the Year awards.  These awards were presented to Professor Larry Cummings and math instructor Gene Hodulik.  Professor Cummings received this award, as well as his emeritus rank, posthumously.   

Additionally, two others were recently recognized for their service to the college: English Professor Extraordinaire mark Blaauw-Hara for his two decades of teaching at North Central, and Dr. Pete Olson, named provost emeritus at the April 2021 Board meeting, for his 15 years of service.

I would also like to acknowledge the retirements of Dr. Ralph Christensen, Gene Hodulik, Dr. Bob Marsh, James McCullough, and Shanna Robinson this past year.

Finally, as i look around the audience today, I see many other people who have worked hard and who have sacrificed a great deal to help these graduates reach this milestone.  Will all family members of graduates please wave (or better yet, honk) to be recognized?  Students, please give a smile, a hug, or a pat on the back to your biggest supporters!

I know all of these graduates are very grateful for the assistance you have given them.  We appreciate it, too, because without your support and encouragement, this milestone would have been much more difficult to reach.

What’s more, you have helped our graduates to maintain their resolve to achieve this higher education goal amidst a once-in-a-century pandemic.  We couldn’t be prouder of how our students, faculty, staff, and our community have responded these past 15 months.

North Central Michigan College's Class of 2021 is comprised of 284 graduates.  There are 205 women and 79 men.  Today, we will be granting 268 associate degrees, 18 certificates, and 21 certificates of development.  Nearly half of the graduates (45 percent) are planning to transfer to a four-year college or university.  The top five hometowns of our graduates are Petoskey, Gaylord, Cheboygan, Boyne City, and Alanson.  There are 11 students graduating with a fellow family member, and 30 percent of our graduates are the first in their family to earn a degree or certificate.

Finally, these graduates have exhibited intelligence, resilience, drive, focus, and teamwork in getting to this day.  They have become known for working together, so that the whole pack succeeds.  We are pleased to call them Timberwolves!  In fact, they are the very first graduating class of Timberwolves, a mascot that they had voice in selecting.  We are extremely proud of this pack!

It’s now my pleasure to introduce you to today’s keynote speaker, Maureen Conley. Maureen was born and raised in Petoskey.  She graduated from Petoskey High School and next earned her Associate of Arts degree from North Central Michigan College in 1976.  From here, she went to Ann Arbor to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Michigan and then a Juris Doctorate from the University of Michigan Law School. 

Maureen grew up debating her father on politics, social issues, religion, etc.  So, it is not surprising she became a lawyer.  Maureen likes to read, study, and, so far, she is a lifelong learner.  Maureen has learned how to weld, operate a forklift, lathe, drill press and a sand blaster.  She has studied leed, better known as “green” building principles, sign language, tai chi, tap dance, and Christian conciliation. One of Maureen’s passions is to “pay it forward,” and she is doing so today.

Maureen has a wide range of experience in commercial real estate.  She has represented national clients in acquisition, development, finance, sale, and leasing of shopping centers, enclosed malls, outlet centers, office and mixed-use projects, restaurants, and multifamily communities. She has negotiated complex real estate agreements with national retailers, restaurants, and manufacturers, as well as guiding multifamily clients through numerous HUD-insured financings. 

In addition to her law practice, Maureen was co-owner of a business offering e-coating for antique and classic car restoration.  

Of the many jobs she has held over the years, the one that was the most challenging but also the most rewarding to Maureen was that of caring for her father the last few years of his life.  Maureen quit work, moved home, and cared for him from 2017 until his death in December 2019. 

You see, Maureen Conley is the daughter of Ray Conley, one of the founders of North Central Michigan College and a member of its Board of Trustees for 22 years. 

Maureen’s journey has led to many unique experiences and opportunities, such as flying faster than the speed of sound. Both Maureen and Chuck Yeager have done this!  Maureen did it on a supersonic concorde jet, which flew at mach 2 (or twice the speed of sound). What’s more, this jet flew on the edge of space, roughly 60,000 feet above sea level.

Is it any surprise that Maureen loves the thrill of top fuel drag racing?  She has attended national drag races in Florida, Arizona, Colorado, Washington, and throughout the Midwest.

Needless to say, Maureen also has a very cool welding helmet complete with racing stripes!

Those are just a few of the exciting experiences that Maureen has had.  To look back and think that her higher education started here in the small town of Petoskey and here at North Central Michigan College gives us all great hope for your personal journey.

With that as a background, it gives me great pleasure to now welcome to the podium a North Central graduate.  This is someone who once stood in your shoes, who felt the same pride of accomplishment you are feeling today, and who used the foundation she built at North Central Michigan College as a launching pad into a successful and prestigious career in law.  Please help me welcome this year’s commencement speaker, Ms. Maureen Conley.

Read Maureen Conley's 2021 Commencement remarks.

Thank you, Maureen.  You have inspired us to reach even greater heights and reminded us of the importance—and the potential—provided by a solid academic foundation.

North Central Michigan College works diligently to ensure the success of our students.  We also believe in acknowledging the success of our alumni and our community leaders.  This year, North Central Michigan College proudly continues the long-established academic practice of recognizing, through the granting of honorary degrees, those distinguished individuals who have realized significant achievement in their respective fields, or who have made substantial contributions to the work of the college or the betterment of our community.  We have the privilege of recognizing such an outstanding individual today.  As you’ve just heard, he has checked all three boxes in a big way. We have just learned much about Ray Conley and the tremendous example that he provides for each of us.  I ask Ray’s daughter Maureen to once again come forward and join me at the front of the stage.

By virtue of the laws of the State of Michigan and the authority vested in me by the Board of Trustees of North Central Michigan College, I am pleased to posthumously confer upon Ray Conley the Honorary Degree of Community Service, per the recommendation of the faculty and administration.  This degree includes all of the rights, privileges, and responsibilities appertaining thereto.  In testimony whereof, we invest Ray with this hood, and I present you, Maureen, with this diploma. Congratulations to you and your siblings!   

We are extremely proud to have honored Ray Conley in this manner.  By extension, we also honor his family.

Graduates, the word commencement means "a beginning."  You have achieved a very significant new beginning.  That alone is cause for celebration.  The new opportunities that will present themselves because of your new beginning are also cause for celebration.  But perhaps the greatest celebration is that you have arrived at this moment.  For some of you, it has been a bumpy path to travel: obstacles, hurdles, roadblocks, detours—maybe even a U-turn.  But you have persevered and now sit at a major new beginning.  There is freshness to new beginnings; there is excitement in the air, and I believe it is invigorating.  I hope you hold onto the spirit of this day.  I hope you enjoy your new beginning.  And I hope you will remember this day and this college as you travel your new path.  So welcome to the moment.  Welcome to Commencement 2021.

We now proceed to the main order of business of this commencement: the awarding of degrees to a remarkable group of students.  Some began their studies just last year, while another began his studies a decade ago!  In either case, it’s all about persistence.  At this time, I ask our Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Pete Olson, to present our candidates for graduation.

at this time, i ask for our graduates attention one final time.  (pause)  members of the class of 2021, it is my great privilege to be the first to congratulate you on receiving your degree and to welcome you as members of north central michigan college’s alumni.  You will be the college’s representatives in many disciplines and many places throughout the world, and we trust that your work will reflect honor upon, and bring greater strength to, north central michigan college.  As you leave this campus today, you leave it as a different individual.  You have achieved one set of goals, and now it is time to reach for a new set.  Please remember:  your degree is not an end, but rather a beginning—a catalyst for the inception of what you will become. 

And now, the special moment in every graduation ceremony…to signify that you have received your degree, please take the tassel on the right side of your graduation cap and move it to the left side.

Let’s all congratulate our graduates with another rousing round of honking.  

Guests, thank you for attending North Central Michigan College’s 2021 Commencement exercises. I ask that you listen carefully to these instructions.  Please remain parked until our recessional is complete.  Ushers will direct all vehicles to the east exit of the parking lot.  You will hand your namecard out the right-side window of your vehicle to Provost Olson, and you’ll receive your diploma cover through the same window.  You may then depart campus to celebrate.  Thanks again for your patience as we file out of the parking lot.

Now,  make your mark on this world.  Go Timberwolves!  Thank you.