MARSHALL - College graduation is a time for celebrating successes and looking forward to the future with a sense of limitless potential, especially for gradates like Elise Kazmerzak, who has built a solid foundation by taking advantage of every possible opportunity that has come her way during her educational career.
Like a number of fellow graduates at Southwest Minnesota State University, which is set to celebrate the graduation of 639 students at commencement today, Kazmerzak is optimistic about beginning a new chapter in her life.
"It's been a whirlwind these last few weeks, but I'm really excited to graduate," she said. "There's a little bit of nervousness, too, for whatever is coming up. But mostly, I'm excited for the future."
Photos by Jenny Kirk
Elise Kazmerzak, a Speech Communications/Public Relations major, is one of more than 630 students set to graduate today from Southwest Minnesota State University.
Kazmerzak's last test was Monday and her final project, one on graphic design, was due Wednesday, so her work at SMSU is completely finished.
"It feels great," Kazmerzak said. "It's awesome to be done. It's a relief, but kind of bittersweet, too. Honestly, as much as I like to complain about my homework load and the tests I have to take, it really wasn't that bad. I like learning new stuff, so while it was a challenge, it was well worth it."
Although she couldn't elaborate, Kazmerzak is ready to jump-start her career.
Commencement exercises for 639 graduates-to-be will begin at 10 a.m. today at the R/A Facility at SMSU. The commencement speaker will be Dr. Rassoul Daztmozd, a 1983 SMSU alumnus and president of St. Paul College.
"I think I'm headed in the right direction," she said. "I've got something in the works and I'm really excited about it. I just can't give too many details because it's not really official. It'll be a paid adventure and it's something really cool, though."
Kazmerzak is graduating with a speech communications/public relations major, which seems to suit her personality perfectly.
"It's a public relations emphasis within the speech communications major," Kazmerzak said. "I really enjoyed speech competitions in high school. I wasn't afraid to talk in front of a group of people. My older sister (Valerie) is a speech communications scholar herself and she's really been a big inspiration for me. I think our family must have some kind of gift of gab or something."
Keeping busy and getting involved have also been second nature to Kazmerzak, which will likely help her in her future.
"Elise has taken full advantage of every opportunity she's been offered at AMAU, including being involved in the SMSU Mentor program, Ambassador, Orientation Leader, MSUSA, Society for Student Leadership and Success, the Speech Center and has even hosted her own radio show," said Matt Suby, assistant director of admission at SMSU. "A major part of her Mentorship has been to produce the Office of Admission 'video blog.'
Elise has also volunteered to assist SMSU at the National College Fair in Minneapolis, was the voice of our Virtual Campus Tour and hosted the television broadcast of 'A Very Prairie Christmas' all while maintaining a GPA over 3.8."
Kazmerzak said that Ambassadors was one of her all-time favorite opportunities. The best part, she said, was that it gave her a chance to connect with people.
"SMSU was small enough that I could get right in and involve myself in clubs and organizations," she said. "I loved giving tours. I love telling stories, about having class in a certain room and so on. That was one of the main reason that I had such a connection with this university. I feel like it's my second home, my home away from home."
Kazmerzak said the highlight during the past four years has been the students, faculty and staff at SMSU.
"I love not only the students here, but the faculty, the staff, the people in Founder's Hall, they're all awesome," she said. "I never found anyone who worked here or went here that didn't have those southwest Minnesota values. From that aspect, growing up in eastern South Dakota (Lake Preston), and southwest Minnesota, we're kind of the same demographic. We're a pretty friendly bunch. That was a huge thing for me when deciding where to go to school. I wanted to be comfortable and be where people are friendly."
While she felt confident in the university and that she was on the right career path, classes during her freshmen and sophomore years certainly validated her decision, Kazmerzak said.
"I took TV production and radio production my freshman year, so right away, I just dove right into those major-related classes and it was great," she said. "I did my radio show, where I was DJ Kaz. I played classic rock music and I think it was a three-hour shift. I was nervous, but after the first few weeks, I got a little more comfortable with the buttons and the timing of it. I fell right into it and loved it."
For the TV production class, Kazmerzak did a couple of group projects, which included every facet of the production process, from being in front of the camera to being behind the camera. She also helped produce, direct and put everything together.
"That was really interesting for me," Kazmerzak said. "As a freshman, I thought it was pretty crazy. It was a big learning curve, but I really appreciated getting right into it and I found from doing it, that I liked it, so that was good. Lucky for me, I found it was the right fit and I was comfortable with it."
A persuasion class during her sophomore year ended up being one of Kazmerzak's favorites.
"It kind of focused on the theories behind communications, what makes people communicate the way they do and how our advertisers, in particular, are using that information to tailor the advertisements to target certain demographics," Kazmerzak said. "That class, from a public relations standpoint, was really important. It helped me realize that there was some meat behind what we're watching on TV and reading in magazines. It was an eye-opening class."
As she got closer and closer to graduation, Kazmerzak's passion flourished and her focus narrowed to include only what's truly important to her.
"I want to do something that I feel good about, something I can throw my whole heart into," she said. "I know I could work for a company that I feel is going in the right direction. I'd help them further their goal, to help them succeed."