Dennis, Stevens Named 2022 Distinguished Alumni

The SCC Alumni Association honored two Distinguished Alumni during SCC’s 2022 commencement ceremonies in May.

Keokuk Distinguished Alum, James Dennis, and West Burlington Distinguished Alum, Serena Stevens, delivered keynote speeches at each campus’s respective commencement ceremony.

A native of Keokuk, Dennis graduated from SCC’s Keokuk campus in 1969 and went on to earn his Bachelor of Science in business from Emporia State University in 1971. He attended law school at Gonzaga University where he received his Juris Doctor in 1975. James and his wife, Mary, also a Keokuk native, spent a year at the University of Rhode Island where he earned a master’s degree in marine affairs.

A member of the Iowa, Illinois, and California State Bar Associations, Dennis started practicing law in California in 1976 before returning to Keokuk where he opened his own law practice. He has maintained his general practice for over 44 years.
Dennis was proudly involved in the Illinois Capital Case Defense Bar, where he served for 15 years.

James and Mary have been very active in the community, having served on multiple boards. James maintained involvement with SCC over the years and served on the SCC Board of Trustees in the 1980s.

Dennis encouraged Keokuk graduates to believe in themselves as they move forward and tackle new goals.

“Trust in your talents. The fact that you’re sitting out here right now in your red gowns is living proof that you can obtain the goals that you set for yourself.”
He cautioned graduates not to let doubt overcome their confidence.
“What’s ahead for you is a wonderful adventure full of rich experiences. Don’t let doubt take that from you. Trust in yourself. Do the hard work. And keep moving forward.”

Serena Stevens, a native of Fort Madison, discovered her passion for fine arts at Southeastern Community College. She completed her Associate of Arts degree in 2008 and received her Associate of Science degree in 2011.

Following SCC, she transferred to Western Illinois University and earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting in 2011.

After WIU, Stevens began exhibiting her work in both juried and solo exhibitions around the country. She was awarded the Iowa Arts Fellowship and earned her Master of Fine Arts degree in painting and drawing from the University of Iowa in 2021.

Stevens’ work has earned solo shows and representation from galleries in New York City and has been featured in Art Forum, The New York Times, and The New Yorker magazine. She credits instructors like John Bybee for providing both knowledge and encouragement as a foundation for success.

In her keynote, Stevens told graduates to embrace the challenges and changes ahead.

“Change is inevitable, but the outcome can be upward. My advice for you is this: You will face many more challenges and changes beyond your control in the future. But if something is not working, change it. If you want something, go after it. Be vulnerable, be patient, be generous. And when you do get what you want or accomplish a goal, don’t be afraid to set the next one.”

Both keynote speeches are available to view on

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