Bemidji Pioneer: NTC GRADUATION: A family in the classroom: NTC students come together after health scare

BEMIDJI — A group of Northwest Technical College students turned a worrisome diagnosis into lasting friendships while they worked on their degrees there.

Kristina Irwin and a few other students are set to graduate Friday with childcare degrees. Irwin was diagnosed with melanoma shortly before she and her soon-to-be friends started the technical college’s two-year program, and what started as a show of support during a health scare turned into a study and support group and, ultimately, a group of close friends.

“I was missing a lot of class,” Irwin said. So she and about half a dozen other classmates made a Facebook group to stay up to date on Irwin’s treatments and their shared coursework. “It meant a lot, having support from people who didn’t even know me…We all just came together.”

Irwin, 30, has been cancer-free for about a year now, but the group and friendships have only grown stronger. Irwin’s fourth child is due any day now, and her NTC friends threw a surprise baby shower for her on Thursday in one of the school’s classrooms. With a two-year degree in hand, Irwin says she hopes to start her own daycare and get a four-year degree in early childhood education.

Group members said they help each other stay on track academically and emotionally, talking shop between assignments and offering encouragement in roughly equal measure.

Kaelen Dolinsek said the day she moved to Bemidji to pursue her degree was the second time she’d ever been to the city. Away from close friends and family, she briefly considered transferring schools a year ago, but stayed because of the bond she formed with her classmates.

“I got my family in the classroom,” Dolinsek said. She plans to work for Americorps at Bemidji Area Schools and pursue a four-year degree in special education at the University of Minnesota’s Duluth campus. “I couldn’t imagine finishing my degree not here with these girls…They became my people.”


BSU and Northwest Technical College both will celebrate their graduates with commencement ceremonies held Friday at the Sanford Center.

Bemidji State BSU commencement ceremony will begin at 2 p.m. A pre-ceremony concert will begin at 1 p.m. The ceremony typically lasts about two hours. Commencement guests should enter the Sanford Center through Gate 2, through the main concourse.

The commencement is free and open to the public. No tickets are required; seating is general admission. Parking is free and approximately 1,000 spots are available in the main parking lot. Carpooling is encouraged to minimize overflow parking on the streets.

The commencement address will be delivered by Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Anne K. McKeig, recipient of BSU’s 2017 Distinguished Minnesotan award.

Northwest Technical CollegeNTC’s commencement ceremony will begin at 7 p.m.  at the Sanford Center. Doors will open at 6 p.m. Same protocol as BSU ceremony. NTC’s Commencement address will be delivered by Mary L. Miller, executive director of clinic operations for Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota.