Lindsey Campbell appreciates the destination significantly more in light of the journey.
The Eldon, Missouri, native was one of 312 students to graduate during Columbia College’s Spring 2023 Commencement on Saturday, April 29, at the Southwell Complex, receiving a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree that was a lifetime in the making.
“I have traveled a long road to reach this point,” Campbell told her fellow graduates during her graduation address in the morning ceremony.
At the age of 17, Campbell moved to Houston, Texas, for what she recalls thinking was a “small-town girl going on a big adventure with the man of my dreams.” Instead, over the ensuing seven years, Campbell faced legal trouble and became a survivor of human trafficking.
She credits her firstborn daughter as her inspiration behind escaping that perilous situation and says her children are the reason she is here today.
Upon returning to her home state, Campbell was at a pivotal point in her life.
“I was a 25-year-old single mother and a high-school dropout with a probation officer and no work history,” Campbell says. “Statistically, my outlook was bleak.”
Two years later, she completed her high-school diploma after the encouragement of her now-fiancé Sean Brady, whom she met while working as the office manager at Brady’s Glass in Columbia.
That ignited her desire to continue her education, lighting a fire that has existed ever since.
“I fell in love not only with Sean, but with the sense of accomplishment and fulfilling my dreams,” Campbell says. “I fell in love with the reward of working hard to do something good for myself, and the feeling of success. I wanted more.”
She took prerequisite classes at a local community college before enrolling at Columbia College and making the Dean’s List in 2021.
While in the Nursing program, she has served as president of the 2023 BSN Cohort, vice president of the Missouri Student Nurses Association and was the co-founder of the first National Student Nurses Association chapter at Columbia College.
She was this year’s recipient of the Elizabeth Award, given to a distinguished graduating female student.
“There was a time when I felt unworthy of love, hope or pride,” Campbell told the crowd at Commencement. “But today, with a heart full of gratitude, I fully embrace my worthiness and purpose and I encourage you to do the same. I am deeply touched by the opportunity to share my story and the significance of believing in yourself.”
From Columbia to Colombia
With graduates hailing from Columbia to Colombia, the two main campus graduation ceremonies featured students from 10 different countries who now share a common bond as alumni.
A total of 193 students graduated during the morning ceremony for the Robert W. Plaster School of Business and the School of Natural Sciences & Mathematics, and 119 students graduated during the afternoon ceremony for the School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences.
The graduations followed the Ivy Chain Ceremony on Friday, April 28, when the time-honored tradition dating back to 1900 was held in its customary outdoor location for the first time in five years.
Ivy Chain was made all-the-more memorable by a timely flyover as students processed into the event.
The sky is truly the limit for Columbia College’s Class of 2023.
Silvey sings a sendoff to fellow graduates
For the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Jane Froman Singers performed in person at Commencement.
This spring was also the first time in memory that a graduate’s speech began with a guitar solo.
Silvey, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Music, serenaded fellow graduates with a mash-up of popular songs that follow the same chord progression.
The same chords represent the graduates’ years spent together at Columbia College and their shared experiences, Silvey says. However, each student’s song, or life, is still inherently different from each other and the 97,000 alumni around the world who have come before them.
“Your unique life and college journey make your song beautiful,” Silvey says.
A Columbia native and member of the Columbia College Honors Program, Silvey has participated in the Jane Froman Singers and Chamber Choir, attended National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) vocal competitions and was cast in the productions of Into the Woods, Oliver! and Godspell.
He looks forward to his professional acting debut this summer.
“Whether the song of your life was written by Bach, The Beatles or Beyonce, we all are unified by these diplomas that we receive today,” Silvey says.
Mother and son savor their shared moment
Like many other graduates, Walker Opp’s mother cheered him on as he walked across the stage for his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree.
But in a moment he won’t soon forget, Opp also got to watch his mom achieve her degree.
Deana Opp earned her Bachelor of Science in Accounting degree, a surreal feeling for a mother who homeschooled her seven children through their high-school years before eventually receiving her diploma alongside one of them.
“Ever since I found out we were going to be able to walk together, I have been so excited,” Deana says. “It is so special to be able to walk across the stage with my son. We are so proud of Walker. He is such an amazing young man.
“It is a moment I will treasure forever.”
When her older children started college and told her she would enjoy it, Deana heeded their advice.
Walker and Deana have taken virtual classes through Columbia College’s Rolla location.
“I have loved the Zoom option and having professors and classmates from around the United States,” Deana says.
Walker says he is exploring career options and is considering following in the footsteps of his father, who retired from the military after serving in the Air Force for 12 years and then in the Army for 10. Deana says she looks forward to finding work in the accounting field.
Walker credits his mom for being there every step of his education — including graduation day.
“I know this opportunity is very special for her, which makes it special for me, too,” Walker says. “How often does a graduate get to walk with their parent?”
Peterson graduates nearly 20 years after playing for CC volleyball
Teri Lynn Peterson transferred to Columbia College as a junior in 2005 and became a starting outside hitter that year for the Cougars volleyball team.
The powerhouse program recorded a successful season and reached the NAIA championship match.
“That season was very awesome and just quite the experience,” Peterson says.
Life moved in a new direction shortly after for the Branson, Missouri, native.
She became pregnant the next spring with the first of her four children, and once the baby arrived, she changed her focus to being a mom and working full time.
The first-generation college student resolved that she would return to complete her degree after all of her children were of school age. She resumed virtual classes through Columbia College’s Lake of the Ozarks location a couple years ago. Her kids now range from 16 years old to 8.
Nearly 20 years after starting her pursuit of a college degree, Peterson graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology degree as her children watched with pride.
“For my kids — the little ones that I brought into this world and have struggled to raise on my own — to tell me how proud they are and how excited they are for my graduation, I couldn’t ask for a better feeling,” Peterson says. “It’s a one-of-a-kind experience.”
Peterson says flexibility provided by faculty allowed her to finish her program while working as a chronic care management nurse. She worked ahead on classes before undergoing spinal surgery this past fall.
Peterson will begin a graduate program in forensic psychology through Arizona State University in May.
She was joined at graduation by her children and her fiancé.
“A lot of people like to make excuses, and you can only do as much as you tell yourself you can do,” Peterson says. “For me, there was just no stopping; I had a goal in mind and that was to graduate this spring, and I made it happen.”
Russell announces Presidential Awards, encourages grads
Columbia College President Dr. David Russell announced two Presidential Award recipients during the morning ceremony: Jimmy Layton and Micah Arndt. The prestigious honor is given to students earning a 4.0 grade-point average who have completed their entire course of study for their bachelor’s degree.
Layton, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, has been a member of the CC baseball program in addition to being part of the Honors Program. Arndt, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, has served as president of the Computer Science Club and as a resident assistant.
Russell promised graduates he would not deliver a lecture during his Commencement remarks. He did, however, offer parting words of wisdom to the Class of 2023: how to receive a compliment.
The president asked students to think about how they usually react when they are praised. He then shared a range of common reactions: cracking a joke, quickly changing the subject or perhaps trying to convince the admirer that their affirmation is unwarranted.
“Don’t hold back on your joy and unbridled happiness on this special day,” Russell told the students. “Think about the people here with you today. They are here because they love you and they know how hard you have worked to achieve this milestone. So just say, ‘Thank you very much!’ and allow yourself to enjoy the plaudits that are your due.”
Russell told the graduates they are walking into a world of “infinite possibilities.”
“I encourage you to throw yourself right into challenges, to commit yourself to building and maintaining quality friendships, and to pursue your passions,” Russell says. “Your degree has earned you a seat at the table, and I know you will be a positive force in making the people around you better as you continue your own journey of growth.”