Technically, the acronym stands for Illinois (where two of the young men were born), Michigan (where the other two were born) and four (because, well, there are four).
But there’s a deeper meaning to IM4, a meaning that strengthens with time.
“There are four of us, but in reality, we’re one person,” says Joshua Guy.
Sunday afternoon, Guy, Romain Johnson II, Vincent Stepney-Willis and Marvin Warfield graduated from Lakeland College, completing a journey that started in the summer of 2012 and ended with degrees and full-time careers.
“It’s been a long road, but I couldn’t ask for a better experience and better friends to share it with,” says Stepney-Willis.
Adds Warfield: “These guys have been such a huge support system for me. I’ve leaned on them so much.”
Johnson and Guy are from Pontiac, Mich. Warfield is from North Chicago and Stepney-Willis grew up in Madison after an early childhood in Illinois. They were drawn to Lakeland by college football, and while they helped the Muskies win back-to-back conference titles, they achieved more off the field.
Guy, who majored in communication, has been hired as a manager trainee by Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Johnson, who majored in communication, has been hired as a recruiter for Tech Systems in Madison. He will place information technology professionals with companies. Stepney-Willis, who majored in nonprofit business management, is the new teen director at Boys & Girls Clubs of Sheboygan. And Warfield, who majored in graphic design, will work in marketing, retail and design for Good Karma, a company that specializes in sports and event marketing.
All four graduates took part in Lakeland’s Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation Career Ready Internship Grant, which allowed them to showcase their talent for local companies at a rate of $12 an hour.
All four are also fiercely loyal members of Beta Sigma Omega fraternity, an organization they say forged their bond and fueled their motivation.
“When we pledged, our mindset was to graduate,” Stepney-Willis says. “We bought into what the Betas were selling us, which was unity.”
Adds Johnson: “We knew we had to come here and take care of business. Football is not forever.”
Now that they’ve graduated, they will go in different directions. But ask them if they will be friends for life, and they might laugh at you for posing such a ridiculous question.
There were many ups and downs during their journey. There were financial hardships. Warfield, for example, almost had to go home his freshman year until his sister acquired a loan that allowed him to continue. When they went home during summers, they knew their support system would be waiting for them when they returned to Lakeland.
“I always knew we would see each other through, to the end,” says Stepney-Willis.
“We kept each other level-minded, helped each other grow into men,” says Guy. “We acknowledged our weaknesses, and pointed out each other’s weaknesses. Our goal was always to be real with each other.”
They pushed each other. They supported each other. They leaned on each other. And in the end, they succeeded. Together.
“Our outcome was expected, honestly,” says Johnson. “We put in the work, and we constantly talked to each other and helped each other. It was always, ‘You’ve got this!’”
Yes, they do.
So, IM4 has left Lakeland – for now. But the group remains intact. It always will.