Sarah Dobitz and John McDaniel were named Dickinson State University’s (DSU) 2021 Outstanding Graduates, the highest honor bestowed on graduating seniors by the University. Both are Dickinson natives who graduated from DSU Saturday, May 15, Dobitz with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and McDaniel with a bachelor’s degree in biology.

Congratulations on receiving Dickinson State University’s 2021 Outstanding Graduate Award! What does this recognition mean to you?

Sarah Dobitz (SD): To me, this recognition is an opportunity for me to represent the college and my program in a positive manner. DSU and the education program has done so much to shape me into the person I am today, so this is a fantastic way for me to represent them. With that, I am also able to represent the programs in the community I have been a part of, such as the Best Friends Mentoring program and the Special Olympics. These programs have allowed me to grow within the community and I hope that they continue to receive the positive support and acknowledgement they deserve.

John McDaniel (JM): I am absolutely at a loss for words. It feels amazing. I am completely humbled and honored to receive such an award. However, this award wasn’t just for me. It was for my family, classmates, and faculty, too. We are a team and we built each other up. There is so much that can be done in this world when you work together. Therefore, this is theirs too.

Why did you choose to attend DSU?

SD: Being from Dickinson, DSU has always been in my mind when choosing a college. Both of my parents are DSU graduates, along with many of my aunts, uncles, and cousins. When considering my options, I was given the opportunity to not only receive a degree in elementary education, but also be a part of the Theodore Roosevelt Honors Leadership Program and the volleyball team. These opportunities, along with the chance to continue my family’s legacy, made my decision a fairly simple one.

JM: I live and work in the nearby communities. Dickinson State University was affordable and ideal for my circumstances and location. Little did I know, it would become so much more!

Is there a professor who had a significant impact on you?

SD: During my time at Dickinson State University, Darla Hoffmann had one of the biggest impacts on me. Prior to attending DSU, Darla was my seventh-grade language teacher in Dickinson and my softball coach during my eighth-grade season. For these reasons, we already had a great connection. When beginning in the program, I knew she would impact my learning with her spunky and realistic approach to teaching. She always provided us with the “truth” of teaching and did everything in her power to help us be successful. Her office door was always open for questions or even to say ‘hello.’ I am forever thankful for her.

JM: It wasn’t just one professor, but several. The entire Department of Natural Sciences faculty is absolutely outstanding. I have never been to an institution where a group of individuals has been so invested in the success of their students. I owe so much of my success and future accomplishments to these amazing people and their leadership. They give you what you need, not what you expect. They are a true treasure to this institution.

Do you have a favorite memory you’d like to share?

SD: Of all the memories I made at DSU, the ones I made while playing volleyball are some of my most cherished. My teammates and I have made countless memories on the court, on the bus, and outside of the sport, as well. I loved each and every experience I had with my teammates, even during the 13-hour bus drives that turned into 15, and the 5:30 a.m. workouts where it seemed impossible to wake up. My teammates, my coaches, and the sport made it all worth it. I’ll miss those times the most, but I have gained lifelong friends through the experience that I will forever be thankful for.

JM: There were so many awesome memories. Watching my professors get excited about material they loved was a favorite of mine. It was contagious and would get you excited, too. In addition, I have to mention Dr. Eric Grabowsky. While I never had a chance to have him as an instructor, he always provided great insight, guidance, and conversation that I will never forget!

What are you most proud of when you look back on your time at DSU?

SD: Looking back on my time at DSU, I am most proud of how I was able to balance my time and efforts between student-teaching and playing volleyball during my last semester. Being a collegiate athlete is a full-time job in itself, just as student-teaching is. I am extremely proud of myself for the days I woke up at 5 a.m. to go to morning practice, ran to be at the elementary school by 7:30 a.m., taught the entire day, and then stayed at the school until 6 p.m. or later to plan lessons and prepare for the following days. It was not an easy task, but I had the best support system behind me at the elementary school and college to make sure I was able to be successful. After accomplishing that semester, I feel like I can take on anything that comes my way.

JM: I am most proud of the relationships I built during my time at Dickinson State University. We helped each other grow and it will be amazing to see where life take us!

What helped you the most in accomplishing your goals?

SD: The support system I had made the most difference in me accomplishing my goals during my time at Dickinson State. My parents, of course, have always been in my corner, encouraging me and being there to lean on when I needed it. My coaches and professors have also been such a huge part of my journey. Especially during my last semester, they did everything they could to take the stress off playing volleyball and teaching simultaneously. They worked with my schedule and were extremely flexible when they didn’t have to be. I’m forever thankful for that. Each person has individually guided me in ways they probably didn’t even notice at the time. DSU is really a family like that. Each individual is there for the other when they need it.

JM: Without question, the Department of Natural Sciences faculty was the most influential. They pushed me out of my comfort zone and opened my eyes to things I never thought I would be interested in, such as research. They gave me what I needed, even when I didn’t think I did. As a non-traditional student, I came to Dickinson State University just to finish my pre-medical prerequisites and ended up with a bachelor’s degree in biology and some awesome research experience. I was a little hardheaded, but they kept pushing me in the direction I needed to be in. I am forever grateful.

Do you have any advice for new Blue Hawks?

SD: My advice for new Blue Hawks is to soak up your time at DSU. Although it can be overwhelming and stressful at times, you will realize that the memories you make and the people you meet will stick with you forever. This is your time to create the person you’ve dreamed of being. Take advantage of the opportunities the college provides, whether it is participating in an organization or simply attending sporting events. You will never regret being a part of something.

JM: Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Take it one day at time. Let each day be an accomplishment. Anything worth doing is going to stretch you. Trust me, you will come out of it stronger!

What are your plans after graduation?

SD: After graduation, I will be spending the summer preparing my classroom for the upcoming school year. I will be teaching third grade at Prairie Rose Elementary in Dickinson this fall. I am extremely excited to begin this next chapter of my life. It is my hope to eventually return to college to earn a master’s degree in special education. At this point in time, I am in no rush. I am just excited for the journey.

JM: I am applying to medical school this summer, in hopes of attending in fall 2022. In the meantime, I will continue to work as a paramedic full-time and enjoy some free time with the family. Life is good!

The Blue Hawk family wishes you the best of luck in your next adventure!