ACC candidates cross stage as graduates

ALPENA – Graduates proudly walked across the stage at the 60th Commencement Ceremony at Alpena Community College on Thursday. This year ACC had 398 candidates for graduation, with around 150 marching in the Commencement ceremony.

This is the 40th year Besser Awards have been presented at Alpena Community College, with only two students receiving the distinguished awards. The students selected have made outstanding contributions to the life of the College through scholarship, leadership and expression of responsibility in solving social problems. They also receive a $500 stipend along with a framed certificate from the Besser Foundation, and will have their names engraved on the Besser Award plaque.

This years Besser Award recipients are Rose M. Prell, who received an Associate in Arts, and Alan J. Phillips, who received an Associate in Science.

This year’s Fellow of the College recipient is Jefferson J. Gray, superintendent of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. This recognition goes to someone who, through a sense of purpose, community concern and leadership, has enriched the educational, cultural and economic lives of the citizens of Northeast Michigan. Gray told the graduates of his support system, and urged them to find someone who believes in their dreams to support them.

“I hope you can identify your dream,” Gray said. “Please, please find someone to support you in that dream and make it into a passion.”

The Distinguished Alumni Award was presented to Jerry Murrell, class of 1964, who went on to create the international company Five Guys Burgers and Fries with his sons. Murrell was raised in Alpena and earned his Associate of Arts degree from ACC. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in economics and eventually moved to Washington D.C. with his family, where he started his restaurant along with his wife and five sons, who eventually convinced him to franchise, opening the doors for over 300 options for units sold.

Murrell remarked that the award was “quite an honor,” and told the graduates about his time at ACC.

“When I got here (ACC), I found that people were here to learn, and the professors started teaching me things that I thought were fun,” Murrell said. “ACC was the little first step that got me going.”

Commencement Speaker Marc Ferguson started his speech with a few facts for the graduates

“There are two things I know about commencement speeches. They have to be less than ten minutes, and ninety percent of them are forgotten,” Ferguson said. “I always ask the question, ‘what do you attribute your success to,’ and the common thread I see consistently is they have a vision, and people have a dream. They are one and the same.”

Ferguson repeated a sentence frequently in his speech, urging the graduates to dream.

“For your wildest dreams to come true, you first must have wild dreams,” he said. “Your dreams must be rooted in optimism and pursued with enthusiasm. Graduates, you have every reason to dream big.”

Another award available to graduates is the John M. Grant Front Runner Award, which is presented to a graduating male and female student who have demonstrated unusual dedication in the pursuit of higher education. This award salutes students who deal not only with the usual challenges of college studies, but also juggle home, family and work responsibilities. They have chosen to make sacrifices to pursue an education, thus illustrating the value of education and transforming their lives in the process.

This years John M. Grand Front Runner Award recipients are Gwenda Heacock, a mother of three, and Douglas Mayo, a former automotive industry worker. Both have participated in many activities through ACC and have earned the respect of their fellow classmates.

Graduates moved their tassels to the left to the congratulations of the crowd and college President, Olin Joynton, representing the Alpena Community College Spring Graduating class of 2013.

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.