Madison College Grad Speaker Says 16-Year Journey Was Worth It


Soon-to-be Madison College graduate Emily Dolan kept a childhood note to inspire her through homework, classes, and balancing school with caring for two young sons.

The “I want to be a nurse someday, so I can help people” note will be in her gown pocket as she walks across the stage to receive her diploma at the 2023 Madison College Commencement on Thursday, Dec. 14 at the Alliant Energy Center.

Dolan and more than 1,400 students are set to graduate this fall.

“Commencement is very important, it’s a milestone for a lot of people and it’s a privilege to be the student commencement speaker,” Dolan says of the event, that will include Madison College President Dr. Jack Daniels, faculty, and Board of Trustees.

Emily Dolan photo
Emily Dolan
Emily Dolan’s sons run onstage during her Madison College pinning ceremony
Emily Dolan’s sons run onstage during her Madison College pinning ceremony.

Like many of her fellow graduates, Dolan’s path wasn’t linear. She came to college in her early 20s, then took a break to move into the workforce and start a family, but several years ago her “pandemic project” was to return to Madison College to finish her nursing studies.

When Dolan’s sons asked mom why she worked so hard, she told them she was learning how to help sick people. Many 2023 fall grads are doing the same, with the largest numbers coming from the nursing assistance, nursing and emergency medical technician programs.

Another large group of grads are in the liberal arts transfer program. Leo Reyes Ponce came from Mexico as a child and upon graduating from Madison College, expects to transfer to a four-year institution and pursue a degree in architecture.

“A career in architecture would allow me to fuse my passion for art and math.” Reyes Ponce says. “Who knew that all those made-up buildings I drew back in my younger days would come back and impact me in this way?”

Reyes Ponce initially expected to concentrate on his academics when he started Madison College, but a professor encouraged him to embrace the whole college experience, and soon he was Phi Theta Kappa president.

“I learned that I could have a voice and elevate the skills I had and apply them in real-time,” Reyes Ponce says. “I served as the Phi Theta Kappa president for about a year and a half and grew so much from the experience. The role was no easy task, and I can say the experience I developed with that amazing organization will last me a lifetime.”

Leo Reyes Ponce photo
Leo Reyes Ponce

Dolan, too, says she gained confidence during her years at Madison College, first in her early 20s, then later when she returned to the campus.

“I was confident that I was ready to put forward the hard work that was necessary to be successful, and I’ve done better this time around,” Dolan says.

I want to be a nurse someday, so I can help people (note)
Emily Dolan wrote this note when she was 7 years old. It was an inspiration during her Madison College studies.

After graduation, Dolan looks forward to an RN residency at the University of Wisconsin Hospital Cardiac ICU, making her goal to help sick people become a reality. It may have taken sixteen years, but Dolan says it made her appreciate the end goal more.

“The most important thing I’ve learned is that it’s never too late to try something new and to do something different,” Dolan says. “If you have an interest in something, follow up on it, and see if something that you can work toward it, and make it become a reality.”