State Tech celebrates socially distanced graduation

State Technical College of Missouri congratulated the Class of 2020 with a “tailgate graduation” Saturday.

More than 650 students graduated from State Tech this year. There were three ceremonies Saturday — 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. The original graduation date was May 9, but it was postponed due to COVID-19.

There were 235 students on the dean’s list, 53 who graduated with a 4.0 GPA and 29 “outstanding students.” Each program can select an outstanding student based on exceptional academic, technical and workplace skills.

The ceremony took place in the parking lot on the State Tech campus in front of the Vehicle and Power Center, and graduates were seated in front of the stage 6 feet apart. They walked the stage and were handed their diplomas, but they did not shake hands like usual.

Graduates and their guests were limited to one vehicle, and the guests observed graduation from inside their vehicles or outside next to their vehicles. Some families brought lawn chairs to sit in, and others honked their horns or blew air horns to celebrate the graduates.

State Tech President Shawn Strong said in his welcome speech that graduation is his favorite event of the year, and this one will go down in history.

“Fifty years from now, when you come back for a reunion, I suspect others will look at you in disbelief, as they will know the Class of 2020 as the tailgate graduation class,” Strong said. “I hope most of you will appreciate this little bit of craziness for what it is — making the best of a challenging situation.”

Strong said this event would not be possible without the students taking ownership for their education and making a commitment to graduate, and he’s proud of the way the graduates responded when they switched to remote learning.

“This will serve you well later in life,” he said. “Just as those who lived through a Great Depression or a world war, it’s our life experiences that shape us. You will look back on this year and your time at State Tech as a defining moment in your life. We’re all proud of you.”

The commencement speaker, Eric Milligan, is a 2007 graduate of State Technical College of Missouri. He earned his Associate of Applied Science degree in industrial electricity with an emphasis on construction and programmable logic controllers.

While pursuing his degree, Milligan secured an internship through State Tech at Unilever HPC in Jefferson City. After graduating, he worked at Unilever as an electrical technician. He moved up in the company from electrical technician to controls engineer and then automation and control supervisor.

Milligan is currently the engineering manager of Automation and Controls at Unilever in the hair and personal care category. He oversees four factories across North America.

“I owe much of my success to the foundation that was built with my degree from State Tech,” he said.

Milligan said the classes at State Tech are comprehensive and build a strong foundation for any future the graduates wish to take.

“I would like to congratulate all of you on this tremendous accomplishment,” he said. “I hope that you are all proud of the hard work that you put in. You deserve it, and I hope that this is one of many great things to come for all of you.”

Milligan said he has been blessed to receive so many opportunities over the past 15 years because of his degree from State Tech, and he urged the graduates to continue to learn and grow.

“I would like to leave you with this advice: Please use your degree as a foundation for many things to come,” he said. “Whether you enter the workforce or continue your education, your degree will always be working for you.”

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