Jalen Sims of Waterford, Mich., will be the student speaker for Northern Michigan University's May 1 commencement. The graphic design major recalled an early project in which he had to create brand and marketing materials around a fictitious business. He came up with Home Grown seed packets, a nod to his passion for gardening and plants. That might have been prophetic. Sims plans to remain in Marquette to cultivate a farming career while pursuing an online graduate degree related to running an agriculture business.
Environment and sustainability have factored prominently into Sims' experience at NMU. As a McNair Scholar, the first-generation college student researched urban architecture integrated with sustainability and nature, under the direction of Professor Keith Ellis. Sims presented his research at this semester's 3 Minute Thesis competition and received the People's Choice Award.
Sims said his commencement speech will revolve around the solid foundation the Northern and Marquette communities have provided for graduates. When he first visited the area, Sims said he was awestruck by Lake Superior and the natural beauty surrounding campus.
“I thought being far from home in a very different place from my hometown would help me figure out who I am as a person and what I value in life. NMU has been a great experience and it's given me space to grow through my involvement in organizations and leadership roles.
“I plan to talk about how, after graduation, each and every one of us has a chance to make an impact and create a ripple effect in the communities we reside in. My speech will also address staying resilient in tough times, which we've all experienced during Covid; diversity, in terms of how we need other people in our lives who may not be like us; and being grateful for relationships. I look forward to hearing stories of our class traveling the world and making a difference.”
After self-admittedly exploring the “fun side” of college his freshman year as he got his bearings and met new people, Sims began his extensive involvement in NMU organizations as a sophomore.
He was a member of the orientation staff, director of the Student Art Gallery, outreach director for EcoReps, and member of both Black Student Union and Anchorpoint, the graphic design club. Through the latter, he and other NMU students were able to network at an AIGA Graphic Design Conference in California.
Sims also completed the Student Leader Fellowship Program, which includes a year-long community service internship. For his project, he served as a graphic designer for the Friends of the Ore Dock BotEco Center, a group working to repurpose the structure in Marquette's Lower Harbor into usable public space.
“I've learned to become self-aware and disciplined, and that everything may not be easy in life, but we're here to learn and grow,” he said. “I'm very motivated to further myself and the things I can accomplish.”
Sims has already made strides as an entrepreneur with the clothing line he developed in high school, Jalien Supply Co. The Jalien moniker is a mash-up of his first name and his first t-shirt design: an alien in a UFO. He plans to continue the business after graduation and has partnered with Smooth UP art gallery in Marquette on clothing drops featuring his line. The next one is scheduled May 30.
His goal to become a farmer will start humbly with a hydroponic garden and chicken coop at the Marquette house he purchased with his mom, who also loves the area, but still resides downstate. He will balance those practical applications with online studies through Colorado State University's graduate program in integrated resource management.
NMU's commencement will stream virtually at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 1. The keynote speaker is Bryan Terrell Clark, the Broadway star who played George Washington in Hamilton. For more information, visit nmu.edu/commencement.