"You are powerful enough to change the world."

Spoken by Central Lakes College President Hara Charlier, those words were just a few of the inspiring remarks made by students and educators during the CLC Career and Technical Programs commencement ceremony Thursday, May 16.

Charlier told graduates to celebrate their accomplishments and to remember they will always be members of the CLC family.

In honor of the occasion, she promised faculty and staff at the college would recommit themselves to enhance innovation, inspire learning and transform lives.

"Each and every day you show us how education transforms lives. Every student sitting here, every one, has faced tremendous challenges," Charlier said. "You might be a single parent, a veteran. You might be a first generation college student. You might be struggling with illness or disability. You might have to work. You may have tremendous family responsibilities, but you have found a way to push through."

One of those students who pushed through this year is Mike Hartwig, a former U.S. Army combat engineer and now CLC graduate, who had the honor of carrying the American flag into Thursday's ceremony.

"It's a little late in the game, but that's all right," Hartwig said of his graduation from CLC's marine and powersport program, which teaches students maintenance and repair techniques on marine equipment and small engines.

"I've always liked to tinker on small engines," he said. "I wasn't very good at it, and now I'm proficient and got a job in the field."

Hartwig now works at AAA Equipment and Rental Center in Pequot Lakes, repairing equipment like lawn mowers, all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles-exactly the skills he learned at CLC.

"It's been great," Hartwig said of his time at Central Lakes College. "The faculty and staff has been great, advisers, the clubs that we get to have, Student Senate. All the programs they have here are quite fun, and they keep you interested."

As Student Senate president, fellow graduate Katelyn Waytashek is responsible for some of those exciting programs, but during her speech Thursday afternoon, she noted how important the rest of the student body has been in her decision-making as a leader.

"Without your voices, my job would mean nothing," she said, using her Student Senate gavel as both a prop and a metaphor for the power graduates have over their lives here on out.

"You all have a gavel, and you hold the authority over your own future," Waytashek said. "You have the right to speak against injustice, and you have the right to change this world for the better. Written on everyone's gavel is the words, 'I can.'"

Next year, Waytashek will bring her leadership skills to the Minnesota National Guard and will continue her education at Ferris State University in Michigan.

"Make a difference as you graduate and take your diploma and run with your future," she encouraged her fellow graduates. "The final piece of my journey as acting Student Senate president is proclaiming that I am so proud of each and every one of you."

Also showing support of the students clad in blue caps and gowns Thursday was Tanya Hoting Mrazek, CLC American Sign Language instructor and winner of the 2019 Board of Trustees Award for Excellence in Teaching, who took the ceremony as an opportunity to teach the graduates one last time.

Six ASL signs every college graduate should know, she said, are "yes," "help," "thank you," "no," "work" and "love."

She told the students to say "yes" when people ask for help, to help support others in their endeavors and to go out of their way to thank people for their help. They should say "no" to injustice, bigotry and discrimination and work hard at and love everything they do, she said.

"Remember that we are all there cheering you on," Hoting Mrazek concluded. "We will be your cheerleaders for your next endeavors."

About 900 students in total graduated from the Staples and Brainerd Central Lakes College campuses this year.

A commencement ceremony honored Staples graduates Wednesday, while the Brainerd campus students were split into three groups Thursday-nursing, career and technical programming, and liberal arts and sciences.

For more photos of the Brainerd Campus CLC Career and Technical Programs ceremony, go to https://bit.ly/2VxI1BG.

For photos of the Brainerd Campus CLC Liberal Arts and Sciences Programs ceremony, go to https://bit.ly/2LKWzyd.