HELENA — One of the most exciting times for a college student is right around the corner for those that attend Carroll College. On Saturday, more than 500 students will be honored in the combined commencement of the 2020 and 2021 classes.
Of those, north of 100 student-athletes will hear their names called, marking the end to what has been a long, and sometimes challenging, journey.
“That’s what we always talk about when they first come to Carroll is that moment, the graduation moment,” Saints track and field coach Harry Clark said. “We’re here for school and we have athletics on the side. Not that we’re not good at athletics, but our No. 1 goal is school. It’s just fun to see, they’re so excited this week because they’re getting done with finals and getting ready for graduation.”
Seventeen track and field athletes and four cross country athletes from the combined classes are part of Saturday’s commencements, including Shae Helterbran and Josh Malone.
Both won multiple individual events during the Frontier Conference Championship Meet in April, helping the Saints sweep the event. Before Helterbran and Malone walk across the stage on Saturday, however, Friday’s meet provides one more opportunity to turn in a qualifying mark ahead of nationals.
“It’s definitely been a journey,” Malone said. “This is our last-chance qualifying meet before nationals, so it would definitely be exciting to pop off a qualifying jump the day before graduation, have our fingers crossed for that one and getting to nationals. It’s definitely been a blessing to be able to finish up my career at Carroll.”
Carroll’s football program will have the most players honored with 35, followed by the soccer, track and field and softball teams. Women’s basketball coach Rachelle Sayers will see five of her players participate, including Molly McDermott and Christine Denny off this year’s squad.
“Those moments are definitely special to us because that’s what brought them to Carroll is for them to be able to accomplish that goal of being a college graduate,” Sayers said. “Basketball was part of that, but this is their future, this is what they’re going to do the rest of their lives. The impact that they’ve had here at Carroll and within our program is huge, but I think the impact that they’re going to continue to have in their profession and in their lives is going to be greater than what we’ve seen here.”
McDermott will be receiving her degree in Psychology, while Denny finishes up her undergrad in Accounting. Both are planning to attend graduate school, and Denny will stay at Carroll for another year to complete the Master of Accountancy program, something former Saints basketball standout Hannah Dean wrapped up this year.
“It just feels like a goal accomplished,” Denny said. “When I came to Carroll, that was the end goal and four years later to have accomplished that is special...I accepted a job with Wipfli, which is an accounting firm here in town, that will start next summer. Once I finish playing and graduate again next year, I’ll have a job.”
While Denny plans to stick around Carroll for another year and run it back with her teammates on the court, so many of the skills student-athletes learn juggling both academics and athletes prepare them for life after college.
So much of keeping up with both grades and practices and games is all about being wise with your time and understanding the commitment it takes to do both successfully.
“I think athletics teaches so many valuable lessons,” Sayers said. “Obviously commitment, dedication, time management, and then for them to be able to work within a team setting. Having to take on leadership roles as a lot of these graduates have, but also be able to work with the people around you. I think being a student-athlete teaches them so many lessons that they’ll use in the workplace, in our society, as parents and I know that they have all grown tremendously in their time here.”
Saints head volleyball coach Moe Boyle echoes the fact that her players grow exponentially during their time at Carroll, and perhaps equally as much during their first year out of college. That is why Boyle is excited to see some of her athletes that are part of the 2020 class return to walk across the stage.
“It’s the rite of passage into the next step in their lives,” Boyle said of graduation. “To be able to watch them grow in their four or five years here and then go out in the world. For some of those kids that are coming back to graduate, to have a year under their belt of adulting. I think adulting is hard and so that first year out is difficult, but exciting at the same time.”
No doubt a lot of work to be both a student and an athlete, rarely do any have regrets over their lack of free time or busy schedule. That is because being around teammates and coaches and building friendships that will last a lifetime are no small things and having a routine helps get most through the rigors of the everyday grind.
“It’s actually been fun for me,” Helterbran said of being a student-athlete. “I feel like it’s kept me organized, like I need to know when I’m doing stuff, when I’m practicing. There’s not a ton of extra time, so you definitely get in your habits of this is when I’m studying, this is when I’m going to practice. It definitely keeps you busy, but it’s totally worth it.”
Carroll athletes can also point to their professors as those who have helped them along their journey. Most student-athletes you talk to describe how their teachers will work with them during the time they are out of the classroom on road trips. Malone said it always felt like professors had the backs of athletes and were always looking out for their best interests.
“They’ve done an absolutely amazing job, I don’t think it’s the same way everywhere,” Denny said of her professors. “To have professors that support us through all these different things that we have to do when we’re traveling and on the road, it just makes going to school that much easier.”
Over 100 student-athletes are graduating in this combined commencement, meaning that many different paths will be taken in the weeks and months to come. Some, like Denny, already have jobs lined up post-graduation while others, like Helterbran, hope to enjoy a little more fun in the sun.
“I don’t really have any plans right now...I kinda just want to enjoy my summer,” Helterbran said. “I’ve got some concerts and some trips planned. I feel like before hitting real life I’m going to soak up my last summer.”
Malone, whose degree is in Health Sciences, plans to continue working at a local hospital while continuing to nail down his path forward.
“I’m taking a gap year before I apply to PA school,” Malone said. “My future plans [are] I want to get into pediatrician/physician assistant type stuff.”
Carroll’s 110th commencement (class of 2020) is scheduled for Saturday at 10 a.m. inside Nelson Stadium. The 111th commencement (class of 2021) will follow at 1 p.m.
Included is a listing of all the student-athletes that are part of the 2020 and 2021 classes of Carroll College.