Columbia State Celebrates Graduates at Fall 2019 Commencement

Dr. Smith and Jeremiah at PLS Breakfast
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Students received the President’s Leadership Society medallion for completing all requirements of the leadership training program prior to graduation. Throughout the program, students attend a leadership retreat, enjoy exposure to the arts, participate in workshops and campus life, develop civic understanding and give back to the community through service. (Pictured, left to right): Dr. Janet F. Smith, Columbia State president, and Jeremiah Gee, Mount Pleasant resident.

(COLUMBIA, Tenn. – Dec.14, 2019) - - - Columbia State Community College celebrated 204 degree and certificate candidates as they crossed the stage in front of family and friends during the commencement ceremony in the Webster Athletic Center Saturday, Dec. 14.

Dr. Janet F. Smith, Columbia State president, opened the ceremony by welcoming degree candidates, faculty, staff, family, friends and guests.

“Today is a special day for several reasons,” Smith said. “It is a day of celebration of accomplishments. It is a day of recognition that these soon to be graduates set a goal and accomplished it.”

Smith introduced alumnus Matt Niswander as the guest speaker for the fall commencement ceremony. Niswander owns Niswander Family Medicine, a local primary care family medical practice, where he is a family nurse practitioner.

Smith highlighted Niswander’s achievements including the completion of his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing – family nurse practitioner track from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Niswander is a first-generation cattleman from Lawrenceburg where he and his family raise Black Angus cattle. He currently serves as the 2019 State Chairman of the Tennessee Young Farmers and Ranchers organization, and has been all over the world advocating for rural America and the family values that make our communities strong. From helping to form agricultural policy in Washington, DC and in Europe; to sharing personal stories about the opioid epidemic with politicians and consumers; he is known for connecting with people and building real, personal relationships with everyone from any walk of life.

Niswander acknowledged his family and supporters, and thanked the college for allowing him to deliver the commencement address. He congratulated the graduates for earning their degree or certificate and achieving the goal of advancing their skills and knowledge through higher education.

Niswander recalled his experience graduating from Columbia State in 2006 and credited many of his successes in life to his education. 

“When I graduated from Columbia State, I knew it was going to make a difference in my life, but I had no idea how much it would change me and the opportunities I would have because of it,” Niswander said. “The places I have been and the places I am going can often be traced back to the education I received from Columbia State.”

Niswander encouraged the graduates to not be afraid to move away from their comfort zone and to be open to connecting with other people. 

“Sometimes, we think that no one would understand where we have been or what we have seen,” Niswander said. “The paths in our lives are what makes us different, but our shared language and understanding of love and passion, or pain and sorrow, is what sustains us. You cannot, and you should not, separate those things, that is how you will connect with people and change our world.”

Niswander closed his address with offering a piece of advice to the graduates: “When you get out in the world and put this degree to work, make sure you get uncomfortable and share your story with others. Go build relationships with people and be accountable for what you do and how you treat others. And when you go out and land that perfect job, remember that you should not only be looking to make a check, but also trying to find a place to make some change.”

Closing the ceremony, the alumni induction of new graduates was presented by Kelvin Webster, Columbia State alumnus and college success adviser for the Williamson Campus, and fall 2019 graduate, Jeremiah Gee.

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Before the commencement ceremony, Smith held a reception for the President’s Leadership Society graduates.

“This program is designed to give students the opportunity to explore new concepts and experience different areas outside of their own major,” Smith said. “PLS also encourages and helps students build and maintain relationships, which are essential to success.” 

Formed in spring 2011, PLS is a free leadership training program focused on developing a student’s unique leadership skills from their first semester through graduation. The program focuses on participation in college-sponsored programs that promote educational attainment, career choices, volunteerism and civic responsibility.

During the course of the program, students will attend a leadership retreat, enjoy exposure to the arts, participate in workshops and campus life, develop civic understanding and give back to the community through volunteerism.

Matt Niswander speaks
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Matt Niswander, family nurse practioner and owner of Niswander Family Medicine, a primary care family medical practice in Lawrenceburg.

Jeremiah Gee
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Mount Pleasant resident Jeremiah Gee a earned a university parallel (general transfer) Associate of Science degree. Gee is a President’s Leadership Society and Tennessee Promise graduate. Gee is currently enrolled at Tennessee Technological University, and plans to eventually earn a master’s degree in computer science with a concentration in cyber security. “You will not find anything quite like the community and family at Columbia State. The faculty and staff work tirelessly to help students pursue and accomplish their goals not only in academics, but also in life.”

Madelyn Unger
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Franklin resident Madelyn Unger earned a university parallel (general transfer) Associate of Science degree. Unger served as a peer leader and an academic coach for the Disability Resources Center, and was a member of Sigma Kappa Delta and Phi Theta Kappa honor societies. She received the 2019 Academic Discipline Award in Speech Communication and the 2019 Leadership Award for the Williamson Campus. Unger said her favorite thing about Columbia State is the “passionate faculty that truly care about student success.”

Anne Scott
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Lawrenceburg resident Anne Scott earned an Associate of Fine Arts degree in music. Scott has worked at Columbia State as a librarian since 2005, and recently accepted the position of library director. Scott holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Alabama, Huntsville and a master’s degree in library service from the University of Alabama. Scott decided to return to college to further her education in music because she saw her daughter graduate with an AFA in music from Columbia State a few years ago and “saw how wonderful and helpful the music faculty were.” Scott said that on top of being a great place to work, Columbia State “is a wonderful environment for encouraging and helping students to achieve their educational pursuits.”

Clayton Prater
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Spring Hill resident Clayton Prater earned an Associate of Applied Science degree in engineering systems technology. He is currently an electrician at General Motors in Spring Hill, and decided to go back to school to further his education in the field. “The education I received from Columbia State has coincided, reaffirmed and strengthened the foundation of my title as electrician.” Prater was a member of the Student Veterans Organization. During his time in the military, Prater received a number of awards including the Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Air Assault Badge and the coveted Army Recruiter Ring. 

Justice Scribner
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Columbia resident Justice Scribner earned a university parallel (general transfer) Associate of Science degree. Scribner is a TRiO graduate and was a member of the Columbia State choir. Scribner plans to continue her education at either the University of Tennessee, Knoxville or Middle Tennessee State University to earn a bachelor’s degree in hospitality and tourism management so she can start a career as an event planner or travel agent. Scriber’s favorite thing about Columbia State was the TRiO office and all of the staff that helped her along the way. “I had so much support,” she said. 

Shelley Britt
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Leoma resident Shelley Britt earned a university parallel (general transfer) Associate of Science degree. Britt is a TRiO graduate and was a member of Phi Theta Kappa honor society and served as a tutor for TRiO. Britt is currently enrolled at Martin Methodist College where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science. Ultimately, she wants to work as a social worker at a children’s hospital.

James Wilburn
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Lawrenceburg resident James Wilburn II earned a university parallel (general transfer) Associate of Science degree. Wilburn was a member of Phi Theta Kappa honor society. Wilburn plans to continue his education at either Georgia Institute of Technology or Georgia State University and wants to work in business management or business administration. Wilburn said that he had a good experience at Columbia State and his favorite thing about the college was the faculty and staff. 

Nathan Hayes
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Burns resident Nathan Hayes earned an Associate of Applied Science degree in computer information technology. During his time at Columbia State, Hayes participated in the Tractor Supply Company capstone program. Hayes decided to further his education at Columbia State after watching his wife and sister-in-law graduate from the college. After graduation, Hayes plans on entering the workforce before returning to a university to continue his education.

Caleb Waller
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Spring Hill resident Caleb Waller earned an Associate of Applied Science degree in computer information technology. Waller is a Tennessee Promise graduate. During his time at Columbia State, Waller worked in the college’s IT department as a computer lab monitor. Waller recently accepted a position at C Spire Business. “From hands-on labs to working in the Columbia State IT department, I have been given the skills and training to get a full-time job in IT.” 

Ameena
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Nashville resident Ameena Khoshnaw earned an emergency medical technician technical certificate. Khoshnaw is currently enrolled at Middle Tennessee State University where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in pre-radiation technology, and is employed with Maury County Emergency Medical Services and Medstar. Ultimately, she plans to earn a doctorate in emergency radiology. “My favorite thing about Columbia State was my instructors that were absolutely amazing and deeply cared for my success.”

Gerald Wynn
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Columbia resident Gerald Wynn earned a university parallel (general transfer) Associate of Science degree. Wynn was a member of Sigma Kappa Delta honor society. Wynn plans on continuing his education at Middle Tennessee State University. He said his favorite thing about Columbia State is “the people and the open environment that feels like family.”

Kim Gooch
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Columbia resident Kim Gooch earned a university parallel (general transfer) Associate of Science degree. Gooch has worked at Columbia State since 2014 as an accounts payable clerk. She plans to continue her education at Tennessee Technological University to earn a bachelor’s degree in business. “My favorite thing about Columbia State is the camaraderie. I have this feeling as both an employee and a student. Professors always reach out to students to make them feel included.

Gabbi Platt
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Spring Hill resident Gabbi Platt earned an Associate of Applied Science degree in nursing. Platt is a Tennessee Promise graduate, and was a member of Phi Theta Kappa honor society and the Student Nurses Association. For Platt, attending Columbia State is a family traditions as all three of her siblings and her mother graduated from Columbia State. She currently has plans to enter the workforce and continue her education to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing. “Columbia State was an option that allowed me to stay close to home and my family while also being at one of the best nursing schools in the state.”

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