Dec 14, 2015

Columbia State Honors Graduates at Fall 2015 Commencement

President and PLS Graduates
Photo Caption: Fall 2015 President's Leadership Society graduates. Pictured, left to right: Amanda Vanus (Spring Hill), Shaun Crist (Centerville), Dr. Janet F. Smith, Cheyenna Bates (Lewisburg), Jennifer Crow (Murfreesboro) and Angelia Reynolds (Columbia).

(COLUMBIA, Tenn. - Dec. 12, 2015) - - - Recognized for their accomplishments, 124 students crossed the stage during the Columbia State Community College fall 2015 commencement ceremony held in the Webster Athletic Center Saturday, Dec. 12.

"We are extremely proud as we celebrate our 50 years, we celebrate opening doors to opportunities," said Dr. Janet F. Smith, Columbia State president. "More than 19,000 degrees and certificates have been awarded since Columbia State's inception."

Smith noted that the economic growth and development of the region is firmly attributed to those graduates.

In honor of the 50th Anniversary celebration, Smith was asked to be the guest speaker for the fall commencement ceremony.

"We have changed and we have grown since we opened our doors 50 years ago, but we are still about student success and opportunity," Smith said.

Smith asked students to think back to when they first stepped foot on campus.

"Are you the same person you once were? Are you where you're going to be?" Smith asked. "I would say you're not, but I would say you've grown."

Smith explained to the graduates that education is important to communities and society for growth and understanding.

"I encourage you today to continue to be your best. Whatever you go after, give it your all," Smith said.

Smith encouraged graduates to show up, be present and be involved.

"Showing up is just a body. Being present is being engaged," Smith explained. "Wherever you go, be a part of whatever you do."

Quoting Shakespeare, Smith also told graduates to be true to themselves.

"Acknowledge your strengths. Where there are not strengths, seek improvements," Smith said.

Smith also shared her M&M philosophy - monitor what you say and do, and modify to make yourself better.

"Believe in yourself. Throughout this process, it is about gaining knowledge, being stronger and believing in yourself," Smith said. "Do not let others define you."

* * *

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.

President Smith addressess graduates

Photo Caption: Dr. Janet F. Smith delivers the fall 2015 commencement address to the graduating class.

Male Student with Parents
Photo Caption:
Centerville resident Shaun Crist earned an Associate of Science degree in economics. He is a member of the President's Leadership Society, Phi Theta Kappa and Sigma Kappa Delta, and he made dean's list all four semesters. He plans to pursue a career in writing after graduation. Crist is a Hickman County High School graduate, and his brother Joshua is currently in the nursing program at Columbia State. Crist (left) is pictured with his parents.

Female graduate with daughters
Photo Caption:
Columbia resident and Giles County native Angelia Reynolds graduated with an Associate of Science degree in sociology. Reynolds, a first-generation, non-traditional student, is a President's Leadership graduate, a member of Phi Theta Kappa and Sigma Kappa Delta, and a peer leader. She said she came to Columbia State because her daughters signed her up and encouraged her to go to school. Her daughters Jessica (left) and Katie (right) are both graduates of Columbia State's history department.

Female graduate with parents
Photo Caption:
Spring Hill (Maury County) resident and Knoxville native Jessica Stafford earned an Associate of Science degree in history. Stafford recently wrote the book "My Side of the Story," which tells about her experience with developing a medulloblastoma brain tumor at the age of seven. She participates in Ride 4 Kids, as well as a camp for oncology patients. After graduation, Stafford plans to write more books, including historical fiction. She dreams of becoming a New York Times bestselling author. Stafford, a Spring Hill High School graduate, is pictured with her parents, Debbie and Jesse.

Male graduate sitting down
Photo Caption:
Mount Pleasant resident Adonis Dennis earned an Associate of Science degree in exercise science and will transfer to Middle Tennessee State University. Dennis said he would like to become a personal trainer after he completes his bachelor's degree. He is a graduate of Mount Pleasant High School.

Male Graduate with his wife and kids
Photo Caption:
Rodney Moore, a Summertown resident and Columbia State facility services employee, completed an Associate of Applied Science degree in the Advanced Integrated Industrial Technology program. Moore is pictured with his wife Diane (right) and children Matthew (left) and Madison (center).

Female graduate with husband and kids
Photo Caption:
Columbia resident and Rockwood, Michigan native Jodi Sztapka earned an Associate of Applied Science degree in the nursing program. Having already earned a bachelor's degree from Arizona State University, Sztapka said she wanted a career change after she heard about the nursing program from her husband Michael (left), an enrollment recruiter at Columbia State. They are pictured with their sons, Noah (left) and Xavier (right).

Male graduate between two girls
Photo Caption:
Pulaski resident Nicholas Holt (center) earned an Associate of Fine Arts degree in music and plans to transfer to Austin Peay State University where he'll study music education. Holt plans to teach music after he completes his bachelor's degree. While at Columbia State, Holt was a member of the choir and plays multiple instruments. He is a graduate of the Tennessee School for the Blind.

Two females at graduation rehearsal
Photo Caption:
Cousins Laquiba (Tia) Alderson and Tiffany Greene, both Columbia residents, graduated Columbia State together. Alderson earned an Associate of Applied Science degree and technical certificate in business, and Greene earned an Associate of Science degree in mass communication.

Female graduate in front of banner
Photo Caption:
Spring Hill (Williamson County) resident Amanda Vanus earned her Associate of Science degree in information systems and plans to transfer to Middle Tennessee State University where she'll major in mathematical education. Her plans include teaching high school math and pursuing her master's degree.

Red-haired female graduate
Photo Caption:
Murfreesboro resident Jennifer Crow earned her Associate of Science degree in sociology. She is a graduate of the President's Leadership Society; a member of Phi Theta Kappa, Sigma Kappa Delta and the Gay Straight Alliance; and was a senator for the Student Government Association. Crow is continuing her education at Middle Tennessee State University where she is studying sociology. She would like to eventually earn a doctorate and pursue a career in academia and research.

Young female graduate on stage
Photo Caption:
Lewisburg resident Cheyenna Bates is a President's Leadership Society graduate. She earned her Associate of Science in Teaching (K-5) degree at Columbia State and plans to continue her education through MTSU's 2+2 program at Columbia State and earn a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies (K-6).

Male and Female graduate in front of tree
Photo Caption:
Film crew technology graduates Max Sechrest (Lewisburg) and Emily LaRocque (Franklin). Sechrest is an independent photographer, cinematographer and film technician. Larocque plans to pursue a career in the film industry as a producer and film technician.

Columbia State is a two-year college, serving a nine-county area in southern Middle Tennessee with locations in Columbia, Franklin, Lawrenceburg, Lewisburg and Clifton. As Tennessee's first community college, Columbia State is committed to increasing access and enhancing diversity at all five campuses. Columbia State is a member of the Tennessee Board of Regents, one of the largest higher education systems in the nation. For more information, please visit

Tennessee's Community Colleges is a system of 13 colleges offering a high-quality, affordable, convenient and personal education to prepare students to achieve their educational and career goals in two years or less. We offer associate degree and certificate programs, workforce development programs and transfer pathways to four-year degrees. For more information, please visit us online at

# # #