Mom Caryn Hetland landed a big hug on son Landyn VanOverbeke and he had a big smile. Landyn VanOverbeke got his diploma from SMSU President Connie Gores.Landyn VanOverbeke (left) next to his mother Caryn Hetland, smiled during the special graduation ceremony. His cousin Riley Yost was next to him along with other family members as SMSU President Dr. Connie Gores (right in robe), conducted the ceremony.Landyn VanOverbeke turned the tassel on his cap in tradition style.Landyn VanOverbeke with his grandparents Duane & Diane VanOverbeke, mother Caryn Hetland, brother Avery VanOverbeke and cousin Riley Yost.

A very special graduation day to remember

•SMSU holds special ceremony for Landyn VanOverbeke after his father's death.

It was expected to be a special day for Landyn VanOverbeke with his family in attendance as he and other Southwest Minnesota State University students graduated on May 5.

Instead, the gathering took place at St. Edward’s Church for the funeral of his father, John VanOverbeke, who passed away unexpectedly in his sleep at his home in Minneota at age 53.

“Because John’s sister had to make the trip from California and his aunt had to come from Arizona, and also because of the availability of the church, we had to schedule the funeral on the same day as the graduation,” said Caryn Hetland, Landyn’s mother.

With a myriad of emotions running through his head because of finals week, the passing of his father, the funeral and the commencement exercise, Landyn decided to try and make the best of a sad and stressful time.

“I sat down with my brother (Avery, who just completed his sophomore year at SMSU) and talked to him about everything,” said Landyn.

“We could either power through all this or try to make them delay the funeral.” “It meant a lot to me and my family for me to walk across the stage and to hear my name called. But this (their father’s passing and funeral arrangements) was much more important so we just decided to go as things were planned.”

Because he wasn’t able to saunter across the stage with other graduates in R/A Facility, Landyn contacted his advisor Dr. Kris Cleveland, an Exercise Science professor, to find out how to go about getting his diploma.

“She told me to come and pick up the cover folder for my diploma so I could take pictures with it,” Landyn recalled.

Graduates receive a personalized cover folder during the commencement exercises that eventually house the diploma that they receive in the mail at a later date.

Upon hearing about Landyn’s unfortunate circumstances, SMSU officials decided to take matters into their own hands.They decided to allow him to have a “special ceremony” in honor of receiving his four-year Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise and Sports Science.

Dr. Cleveland had informed SMSU President Dr. Connie Gores about the untimely death of Landyn’s father and how Landyn would not be able to attend the SMSU graduation ceremony.

“I got an email a day or so after the funeral (from Dr. Gores) telling me how much SMSU values its students and takes pride in their success,” Landyn told.

“And she said they knew about everything that happened and wanted to give me the opportunity to have a private ceremony for me.”

That ceremony was slated for May 9 outside Gores’ office at SMSU’s Founders Hall. Landyn had borrowed a cap and gown for the expected SMSU graduation ceremony from a friend as many college graduates do to defray the costs of purchasing new ones.

“After we knew Landyn wouldn’t be able to go to the graduation, I figured he wouldn’t need the cap and gown so I packed it up to bring back to the friend we borrowed it from,” said Hetland.

As it turned out, Landyn would need the cap and gown for the special day SMSU had set aside for him. “They emailed me again and told me to wear the cap and gown to the private ceremony they had planned for me,” Landyn said.

“I was kind of surprised they wanted me to wear it. I figured it was just going to be a casual thing.”

It was more than casual as Dr. Gores, Provost and Vice President of Academics and Student Affairs Dr. Dwight Watson, Exercise Science Professor Dr. Jeffrey Bell, and Dr. Cleveland also donned caps and gowns as they had on the actual graduation ceremony four days earlier on stage.

“It was a really special thing they did for Landyn,” said Hetland.

“(Dr. Gores) said a few words and then talked to each of us personally. It gave us the chance to see Landyn graduate that we wouldn’t have otherwise.” During the ceremony, Dr. Gores eloquently spoke just as she had four days earlier during the May 5 ceremony.

“On the recommendation of the faculty, the dean and the provost, and by the authority vested in me by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities board of trustees, I now confer upon you the Bachelor’s degree to which your program of studies has led you,” she uttered.

Dr. Gores then personally congratulated Landyn and directed him to switch the tassel dangling from the right side of his mortarboard cap over to the left side, signifying he had officially graduated.

“This was all much more than I ever expected it would be,” said Landyn about the private commencement exercise.

“It really meant a lot to me.”

It also meant a lot to the members of his family. “(Dr. Gores) then told us all to cheer and clap for Landyn and his future endeavors,” said Hetland.

Landyn became the first from the VanOverbeke side of the family to receive a four-year degree. And he and his cousin Adam Thompson, who graduated this spring from South Dakota State University, became the first to earn a degree from the Hetland side of the family.

Besides Landyn, his mother and brother, also in attendance were John’s parents Duane and Diane VanOverbeke, as well as Landyn’s cousin, Riley Yost.

“This day will always stick with me,” Landyn said.

“At a bigger school, you’re just a number. But here, you’re a name and not just a number.”

“Even with so many others graduating here, they took the time to honor one student that couldn’t be at the graduation ceremony. That just solidified my reason for choosing to come here.”

John VanOverbeke had planned to attend the SMSU commencement exercise on May 5.

Although his passing left a void, John’s presence was felt at the private ceremony by those in attendance.

“My dad was here and had the best seat in the house,” said Landyn proudly.

“I could feel him here with us. That made it a lot better day for me.”

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