It was graduation day, and the end of a long year of celebrating the school’s 50th anniversary. And the commencement speaker was talking about change, and the future.

Such is life for President Eric Burks and his faculty and staff at North Central Kansas Technical College.

Even before Saturday’s 2015 graduation for NCK Tech’s two campuses in Beloit and Hays, staff already was looking ahead to the next school year.

The speaker at Saturday’s commencement ceremony for the Hays campus told the graduates to get used to that type of thinking.

“You are change agents, and a good change agent is present in the possibility,” said Terry Siek, chief nursing officer at Hays Medical Center. “Professional life requires presence. When you are present in the possibility, you are engaged.”

Siek told the nearly 140 graduates that “being present for the possibility leads to service.”

“How will you make your customer, your boss, your family or your patient feel about what you are doing with them?” he asked. “This is important as a change agent. How you make the person you are trying to change feel will dictate how successful that change is.”

NCK Tech certainly has been through a lot of changes through the years.

It began as a vocational technical school in 1964 in Beloit. A satellite campus started in Hays 10 years later with a nursing program in the basement of St. Anthony Hospital, which now is HaysMed. It earned technical college status in 1994.

For a variety of reasons, Siek said he was honored when Sandy Gottschalk, dean of NCK Tech’s Hays campus, asked him to speak at this year’s graduation.

One of those is the fact his place of employment is where the technical college’s Hays campus got its start.

At the time, the present campus that includes six buildings was an open field.

“From the meager beginnings to the proud institution it is today gives you an appreciation of what it all took to make this happen,” Burks said. “It all started with a great vision and a lot of dedicated people, and we still have dedicated people here.”

One of those is Gottschalk, who is celebrating another anniversary this year — her 25th at the school.

Gottschalk was pulling double duty Saturday, helping with the nursing pinning ceremony earlier in the afternoon as the former director of nursing, then participating in commencement as the Hays dean.

After more than 15 years as director of nursing at NCK Tech, Gottschalk in October was named dean of the Hays campus, turning over her nursing directorship to long-time instructor Michele Unrein.

“This was a really special graduation for our school,” Gottschalk said, “and for me personally, too. We’ve had 1,386 nursing graduates in 40 years on our campus. It’s been a special year ... really a special 40 years.”

Burks agreed.

“It’s been great to be able to reflect on the institution through the years,” he said of the numerous celebrations since August, both for 50 years of the entire school and 40 years on the Hays campus. “It’s amazing to see how it all came together, and it’s exciting to think what the next 50 years will bring.”

Nick Schwien is managing editor at The Hays Daily News.

nschwien@dailynews.net