Muskegon Community College students Nicholas Heelan and Elizabeth Robin Carpenter have been selected to speak for the Class of 2018 at the college’s 90th Commencement exercises on Wednesday evening, May 9, 2016 in L.C. Walker Arena. The event is free and open to the public.
Undaunted by being labeled in elementary school as a special needs student, Nicholas Heelan has applied an unflinching, can-do, work ethic to overcome the many obstacles that have stood between him and his pursuit of higher education.
A native of Tinley Park, IL, Nicholas grew up in Pullman, MI, where he was raised by a single, loving mother. Challenged by reading and writing disabilities, Nicholas excelled at Saugatuck High School and was accepted into the South Ottawa County Early College Program. At Muskegon Community College, he has maintained a 4.0 GPA and was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.
“School isn’t something that comes naturally for Nick,” noted Jennifer Knittel, the student advisor for the Ottawa County Early College program. “He has earned every ounce of success that he has had through his hard work and dedication.”
“His participation in discussions was beyond comprehension,” added his MCC history instructor George Maniates. “You would have thought that he was in a Ph.D. program in History instead of a mere undergraduate. This discourse was welcomed and inspired other students to participate as well in the materials.”
“Despite struggles with a reading disability, Nick not only earned top marks in the class but also worked extra to help his fellow students succeed, too,” commented his MCC Oceanography instructor Amber Kumpf.
A barista and shift leader at a Saugutuck coffee shop, Nicholas loves running with his former high school track and cross country teammates. “Whether it be taking splits on the track, plaining out jogging routes, or helping individual runners keep tempo, I love the sport of running and take pride in helping these young adults grow as athletes,” he said. “I also enjoy tutoring my peers in mathematics and literature, which often happens at the very same coffee shop. I find the fact that me, a person with a learning disability, being able to help others learn is a very empowering, yet humbling position.”
Grateful for all the support he has received over the years, Nicholas has assisted other students in the MCC’s Tutoring Center. His Commencement address will be a mixture of gratitude for his MCC experience and a personal testament to perseverance. “I would like to show everyone that will be attending that anything is possible,” concludes Nicholas. “How I, a person with a reading and writing disability who has repeatedly been told he would amount to nothing, can indeed graduate with a college degree.”
Elizabeth Robin Carpenter
Born in Cambridge, MN, Elizabeth Robin Carpenter grew up living in Wisconsin, California, and eventually Seattle, where she graduated from Seattle Christian High School. She married at a young age and easily transitioned into the role of a nurturing mother to her four children.
In the early 1980s, she moved to West Michigan. Robin operated a home-based child care business for nine years before taking a sales job in the retail industry. When the store closed its doors, she acted upon a lifelong interest in theater and registered for a class at MCC. Unfamiliar with the complexities of college enrollment, Robin participated in MCC’s College Prep 101 class aimed at easing adult students back into an academic setting before actually beginning classes.
“By the end of the course, (Dean of Enrollment Services) Cindy Reuss had convinced me to take more than just a theatre class and I found myself enrolled in CSS, CIS, and Acting 102,” Robin recounted. “She told me it would be a good way to ‘get my feet wet’ and see if I liked college. Well, it turned out that college life agreed with me. Under the tutelage of Sally Birkam in CSS, I learned how to study for exams, take good notes, use the library, and many other things that I never learned to do in high school. With the help of my very patient CIS instructor, Vince Skutnik, I learned my way around a computer. I was now ready to be a successful college student. I continued going half-time into that next winter semester and, much to my surprise, got straight A’s that first year. The rest is history.”
At MCC, Robin presented at the annual Global Awareness Festival and has been involved in nearly every theatrical production during her time as a student. She had roles in MCC’s productions of Avenue Q, Once Upon a Time: Stories of the Season, The Taming of the Shrew and Metamorphoses. She also has assisted with directing, stage managing and costuming.
“My college experience has been amazing,” admitted Robin. “Because of faculty, instructors, and staff that truly care about students, my life has been changed for the better. Before attending Muskegon Community College, I had not realized how small my world was. Now my world is very big. Not big enough to be scary, but big enough to make life even more beautiful than it was before.”