Josh Widmann watches Okanagan College's winter convocation Saturday in Kelowna. The morning event recognized the achievements of 329 students, who graduated from more than 20 programs.
She already knew that her 22-year-old son, Josh Widmann, was graduating "with distinction" - in the top 15 per cent of his class. But she was surprised to learn he had been chosen from 329 students to deliver the official student address (valedictorian).
"I wish I had brought Kleenex," she joked moments later. "I am so proud of him. He is brilliant. He got the best from both of us, I think."
"I'm very proud," added his father, Walter Widmann. "When they're young, you just hope that they will do their best in whatever they decide to take up. And anything that they do, you're proud of them for that."
As he walked with other grads, Josh Widmann admitted: "I wanted it to be a surprise, but it was actually really hard not to tell them."
The college informed him of the honour last week when he was out of town.
"So I could keep it to myself," he said. "My mom kept asking: 'Are you going to be speaking or something?' I just dodged the question. I would try to change the subject and not answer her. I never told her I wasn't speaking; I just neglected to mention it."
It was quite a week for the student who graduated with a bachelor of business administration, majoring in accounting and earning an 87 per cent overall average. On Monday, he joined the firm of Grant Thornton chartered accountants - sixth largest worldwide - and today, he's moving away from the family home into a basement suite with college girlfriend Kaitie Galic. Next week, he turns 23.
When he entered the Kelowna campus four years ago, he was known as a quiet, but good student. He soon became a ferocious competitor in business contests. In his second year, he won at the KPMG regional business contest, then the nationals and flew to Athens, Greece, for an international event.
In his third year, he and a student partner finished second in the Inter-Collegiate Business Competition, the top post-secondary business-case competition in Canada, held annually at Queen's University in Ontario. In his final year, he and new partner Daniella Hallam finished second in the finance category in that same international competition.
"It was a lot of fun," he said. "They chose the top five for the finals out of 20-25 other schools in a preliminary round in October. It's a huge honour, awesome just to get to the finals. I knew we had done well because our coach was constantly smiling and nodding during our presentation."
"He told me right away when he got asked to do the student address by the school representative," said Galic, who also had tears in her eyes after kissing him while he was seated in the back row of the graduation class.
"It was a shock to his parents. Needless to say, they were kind of weeping, So was I, absolutely. Of course, I was just the most proud girlfriend that you could ever find. I just think he's the perfect guy to do the job because he's had all these successes in his college career."
Widmann acknowledged his personal journey in his address, thanking both his parents "for always believing in and supporting me," his girlfriend "for keeping me grounded and always being my biggest fan," and his three brothers, "who were always welcome distractions from studying."
Widmann was even acknowledged by college principal Jim Hamilton, who noted in his address to grads that Okanagan College was the only Canadian college at the Queen's competition and, in fact, had two teams in the finals out of 48 teams from 24 of the best universities and business schools in Canada, Norway, Australia and Thailand.
He had all grads stand, turn to face family, friends and supporters, and applaud their support in the students' educational efforts.
The 329 students graduated from more than 20 programs, including practical nursing, commercial aviation, business administration, human kinetics, human service work, engineering technologies and computer science.
At its first convocation of 2013, the college conferred 72 degrees, 25 associate degrees, 162 diplomas and 70 certificates.
Last year, Okanagan College recognized more than 2,800 students at its various convocations. The largest ceremonies are held in June.