DOWAGIAC — Michael Cloud has been proving people wrong his whole life, not letting early diagnoses of autism and Asperger’s get him down.
And he will soon be a community college graduate.
Cloud will graduate with honors Saturday from Southwestern Michigan College, which is having its 51st commencement ceremony.
Cloud is a 2015 graduate of Dowagiac Union High School. His college career has taken a year longer than expected as he changed majors twice before settling on psychology.
“I originally majored in music education, but I had an epiphany one day,” he said. “I realized I wasn’t enjoying myself. I asked God for guidance, and I had an ‘aha’ moment that I was not where I was supposed to be. … After one semester in pre-med, I switched to psychology and found my niche.”
His plans include enrolling in a four-year college this fall, likely the University of Michigan, where he’s received a full-ride scholarship, and then pursue a career as a youth counselor. He expects eventually to get a doctoral degree in counseling.
“Being able to do counseling has always been a passion of mine. I’ve always wanted to help people,” he said. “I had to unlock that passion through all the pain, hurt and betrayal.”
Cloud said his experiences will help him relate to youth and give him a better understanding of what they’re going through.
“I believe that everyone has potential,” he said. “My third grade teacher said I wouldn’t amount to anything and suggested I take the third grade over. When I was in fourth grade, I was learning college-level words.
“I started being bullied in the third grade through to the end of eighth grade. I had a revelation one night that if I chose to let one person’s seven seconds of negativity define my life, I wouldn’t do anything. I went to high school scared, but I had kids come up to me and apologize for how they had acted.”
His philosophy continues to be one of accentuating the positive.
“My struggles in special education were more along the lines of either people not understanding my disability or people just focusing on my disability,” he said. “… I want to tell people that if they get a ‘no,’ it won’t always be a no. God has a plan for them.
“… When people focus on the disability, they focus on the negative context of the word instead of focusing on how the individual can manage it and make it one of their strengths. That is how I’m am going to be able to assist students with counseling. The student needs to know that you are both with the delivering of words and action.”
In college, he’s participated in everything from musicals to tutoring and manning the help desk in the technology building. He’s worked in the records department and with the Early Talent Search program, where he’s been able to counsel and meet with middle school students. He recently was inducted into the new psychology Psi Beta National Honor Society.
More than anything, he credits his SMC experience for being able to explore different careers and get used to college.
“If I had gone to a four-year college initially I don’t think I would thrive. I would probably have dropped out,” he said. “I would highly recommend going to SMC. It’s a small campus and everyone knows everyone.”