CWU News

Etiquette seminar teaches students to put their best foot forward

Merrily Bjerkestrand knows manners and personal polish can go a long way in the professional world. “The only thing that’s going to separate you from the pack is how you present yourself and the confidence you have,” said Bjerkestrand, a CWU alumna and owner of the Northwest School of Protocol. “And that comes from within.”

Bjerkestrand earned a degree in special education from CWU. She has always been interested in behavior and how people present themselves. “It’s just been my wiring, growing up.”

One day she read an article about being trained to be an etiquette consultant for children at the Protocol School of Washington in Washington, DC. “Opportunity met years of preparation,” Bjerkestrand retells. The experience was amazing, so she returned a year later to be trained and certified in corporate etiquette and international protocol.

For the past 10 years, Bjerkestrand has been giving CWU students pointers they’ll use for a lifetime at the annual Professional Etiquette Dinner. Her seminar is presented during a four-course meal.

“By offering the Professional Etiquette Dinner, Central gives students an edge when they’re going out with employers or meeting clients,” said Kristina Paquette of CWU Career Services, which organizes the event. “It’s something that hopefully will stay with them and make them shine.”

Knowing the rules changes people from the inside out, Bjerkestrand says, and it makes a difference in face-to-face interviews, out to lunch, networking, or any type of event that involves meeting people around a meal.

“Knowing these rules helps you present yourself with genuineness and authenticity,” Bjerkestrand said. “Manners aren’t something you have only when people are around. It’s something that comes from the inside, and actually, it gives you freedom. Once you know the rules you can relax because you know the expectations and how to present yourself. It’s confidence building.”

It’s also non-judgmental, Bjerkestrand points out. With control and knowledge over how to present yourself comes the skill and grace of putting others at ease and accepting them as they are.

Corbin Sims, who graduated in June, said he appreciated the pointers. “Just the general behavior guidelines and making sure you come off as a pleasant and well-mannered person were good takeaways,” Sims said.

Then he grinned, admitting one faux pas during the dinner. “In the process of reaching for the bread, my long sleeve dipped into the tomato soup … I stained my shirt a little bit. Other than that, it went OK.”

Media contact: Barb Arnott, CWU Public Affairs,, 509-963-2841
July 13, 2016