Bryan Barnett, the student speaker for South Puget Sound Community College’s 51st commencement ceremony on Friday night, said he plans to attend medical school so he can find the cure to his mother’s incurable disease.
Barnett said the challenges that came with having a mother diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an incurable nerve disease, taught him perseverance and made him grow up quickly.
“I always told her, ‘One day I’ll find the cure for you,’” he said. “ I think it’s possible. I want to make her proud and put a smile on her face.”
Barnett received his Associate of Arts at the slightly damp SPSCC commencement ceremony Friday night (June 17). Almost 1,500 students graduated, with more than 1,700 degrees and certificates awarded.
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Barnett said he struggled throughout his middle school and high school careers, but finally found his “home away from home” at SPSCC after enrolling as a Running Start student from Timberline High School in 2015.
“Counselors and teachers doubted me,” Barnett said. “I wasn’t involved in high school, I was a go-to-school, go-to-class type of guy. They didn’t think I had the potential to be where I am today.”
The self-aware 19-year-old explained he tried to become more involved at SPSCC and found a welcoming community at the Diversity and Equity Center. He said the connections he made there helped him to become more comfortable with himself.
“I don’t think I’ll ever stop being a peer mentor,” Barnett said. “I was scared to get involved, but I would encourage people to get involved. The reward is glorious.”
Barnett went on to lead a discussion at a local high school about the Black Lives Matter campaign, became a peer mentor, and was part of the initiative to start the Black Student Union on campus. Barnett recently received the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship in recognition of his academic success and service and leadership in the community.
As a faculty member walked by, he high-fived Barnett. Barnett turned and with a contagious smile said, “I never thought I’d care this much about school.”
Barnett is excited to graduate and join the community at the University of Washington’s Tacoma campus, but he said he is nervous and sad about leaving his friends at SPSCC.
“Hugs are going to turn into Facebook messages,” he said.
“(Barnett’s) really caring and takes a genuine and sincere interest in other people’s lives,” close friend Tre Jackson said. “He really wants to give back to the world.”
The Dean of Student Engagement at SPSCC said there weren’t words to describe Barnett.
“Woven through his leadership and his humor there’s such an empowering and motivating voice,” Jen Manley said. “When Bryan is in a space, no matter where he is, there’s a positive, informative and collaborative presence. Peers feel a sense of encouragement because they see him as someone they want to be like.”
Families were soaked from the rain as they watched Friday’s commencement ceremony.
“It’s wet,” Tom Hubbard, from Portland, Oregon, said. He made the journey to watch his sister receive her high school diploma. “I’m so proud of her. She had to overcome several obstacles and to go back is a great step towards her future.”
The sun came out as “Amazing Grace: was played on the bagpipes by Olympia Highlanders Pipes and Drums.
“I believe the sun just came out and a rainbow appeared somewhere,” Dr. Timothy Stokes, SPSCC’s president, said.
He spoke about the Orlando tragedy and encouraged students to give back to their community.
“Use your education to give back where you can and do good in big and small ways,” he said. “Remember everybody has a pulse.”
Class of 2016
A list of South Puget Sound Community College’s 2016 spring graduates is at http://www.theolympian.com/news/local/article84608827.html