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Vermilion salutes class of ’23

First graduation held under the new Minnesota North umbrella

by Tom Coombe

For Sam Maves, two years of college in  Ely seemed to pass in an instant amid plenty of change.

“So much has changed we are longer VCC, we are Minnesota North,” said Maves, who served this year as Student Senate President.

Maves represented the graduating class of 2023 Tuesday night while speaking at the first commencement ceremonies for the newly-renamed Minnesota North College-Vermilion Campus.

While there’s a new name, graduation at what’s still commonly known as VCC went much like previous events.

The gymnasium was packed with family members and friends of the nearly 100 graduates who participated, as well as school faculty and staff.

There was also a distinguished guest who doubled as the commencement speaker.

Devinder Malhotra, outgoing chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, addressed the graduates and spoke highly of their accomplishments as well as the Ely campus and its surroundings.

“Vermilion has long been known as the Boundary Waters college,” said Malhotra, who is leaving his position later this summer. “Your campus sits on the edge of some of the most beautiful natural resources in our state and I dare say our nation.”

Malhotra cited many of the outdoors-related programming that Vermilion offers, including outdoor leadership and fisheries and wildlife courses, and said Vermilion is “a shining example of not only stewardship of educational experience but stewardship of pristine nature and abundant natural resources of the region.”

He said Vermilion graduates “probably embarked on adventures outside the walls of these classrooms.”

“You were fortunate to have the Boundary Waters as your learning and living laboratory,” said Malhotra.

Among the Vermilion graduates were students from nine states and 24 who graduated with honors.

Three Vermilion graduates - Taylor Gibney, Kelly Thompson and Cedar Ohlhauser - will also graduate from Ely Memorial High School in three weeks.  All also earned Vermilion degrees as a result of the post secondary enrollment options program and actually graduated from college before graduating from high school.

Malhotra challenged graduates to “contribute rather than detract from the planet and ecosystem.”

“As Abraham Lincoln said, the best way to predict your future is to create it and now as graduates you have the power to do that,” he said.

Malhotra’s appearance and address were a break from recent tradition, which called for the commencement address to be delivered by a recent Vermilion graduate.

This marked the second year in a row that graduation was back in the school gymnasium, after virtual events were held in both 2020 and 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mike Raich, president of Minnesota North, also hailed the achievements of Vermilion graduates amid the transition this year.

He shared the stage with Chris Koivisto, academic dean and head of campus operations in Ely.

Koivisto told students they were aided by dedicated teachers and staff at Vermilion and saluted three who are leaving the campus.

He recognized retiring teachers Roger Bontems and Craig Tikkanen as well as longtime business office worker Mary Muellerleile.

Maves said he was honored to speak regularly to the Vermilion advisory board and recognized that group for their behind-the-scenes work in enhancing the campus.

He also said he and other Vermilion students benefited from the school’s program-based education.

Faculty president Reed Petersen announced the names of each graduate as they crossed the stage, and following the event graduates posed for pictures both inside the gymnasium and outside.

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