'Better because you were here:' CLC career, technical students celebrate graduation

Students from career and technical programs at the Central Lakes College Brainerd campus graduated Thursday, May 11.

Students recess out of the gym. Shayla Kelps raises her arms to the stands.
Student Shayla Kelps gestures her appreciation into the stands as she celebrates graduating during the recessional Thursday, May 11, 2023, at Central Lakes College in Brainerd.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — An announcement about how to exit the gym in an orderly fashion started the night at the Central Lakes College career and technical education graduation ceremony Thursday, May 11, at the Brainerd Campus, serving as a reminder of the chaotic end to last year’s commencement.

The 2023 graduates enjoyed a typical ceremony, without having to worry about impending inclement weather like their 2022 peers.

Nothing more than “Pomp and Circumstances” and plenty of excited cheers from the audience filled the gym this year, as students earned degrees and certificates in areas like criminal justice, welding, automotive technology and a whole host of other career fields.

The breadth of courses and degrees offered at CLC was reflected in the wide range of graduates who walked the stage Thursday night. Some were high school seniors earning their associate degree alongside their GED, while others were non-traditional students coming back to school after a long absence.

Danielle Peltier is one graduate who took full advantage of all CLC had to offer, accepting her second of three degrees from the college. Her health care accounting degree joins the associates in medical assistance she earned from CLC last year.


But she didn’t stop there either, planning to attend Friday night’s liberal arts commencement ceremony to earn her deaf studies certificate.

Originally from Bertha, Peltier started out her CLC career in Staples and ended it in Brainerd.

“To get my associates, I needed a language, so I took ASL, fell in love with the language and decided, ‘OK, I can go again. I’ve got another round in me,’” Peltier said before Thursday’s ceremony.

We are limited in our abilities to accomplish great things. However, as a team, we are unstoppable.
Tracey Kloeckl-Jiménez, CLC faculty

While Peltier had plans to interview for a job now that she finished her degrees, graduates like Cassandra Lauppe and Masen Barton already boasted full-time jobs in their fields.

Lauppe said she was so lucky to have an accounting job she loved, while Barton works for the Sauk Rapids Police Department.

Barton graduated Thursday with his associates of applied science degree in criminal justice and law enforcement skills certificate.

“That’s always been a calling of mine, since I’ve been able to walk,” he said.

As a Brainerd native, CLC was a convenient local choice to further that calling.


“I’m not really a big university guy,” Barton said, noting the small class sizes and amazing staff at CLC. “... You’re a person more than just a number.”

The bond Barton described with instructors was evident for so many graduates, who happily hugged the excited staff members waiting to congratulate them after receiving their diplomas.

CLC President Hara Charlier’s opening remarks touched on those relationships as well.

“In your time, you’ve made a tremendous impact on us,” she said. “You’ve shared your gifts, your challenges, your struggles, honestly and authentically. You helped us to learn how to support students who come after you better. … This college is better because you were here.”

A sense of pride filled the gym and shone on students’ faces, especially when Charlier asked those who were the first in their family to graduate college to stand and receive recognition.

Diplomas now in hand for graduates, faculty speaker Tracey Kloeckl-Jiménez reminded them to use their gifts to give back to their communities.

“We are limited in our abilities to accomplish great things. However, as a team, we are unstoppable,” Kloeckl-Jiménez said. “We are in this together. Let’s combine our skills for the betterment of the whole. It is through diversity of skills and perspectives in our communities that we will be able to learn from one another and move forward.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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