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Teenager and 71-Year-Old Mark Waubonsee’s Youngest and Oldest Graduates

A teenager who simultaneously finished high school and earned an associate degree while maintaining status as an honors student, and a 71-year-old who overcame a lifetime of addiction and is a two-time liver transplant recipient will both walk across the stage and receive their diplomas during Waubonsee Community College’s 2016 Commencement Ceremony on May 14.

While these are just two of the 1,083 degrees being conferred this month, in many ways, the stories of Waubonsee’s youngest and oldest graduates demonstrate the diverse roles of a community college in meeting the varied services and needs for lifelong learning.

Here are their stories:

Abigail Zedwick
Brian McIntyre

Abigail Zedwick

Abigail Zedwick turned 18-years-old one week before finishing high school and receiving her associate degree at Waubonsee Community College. The Yorkville teen enrolled in Waubonsee’s dual credit program, which allows students to take courses to earn both high school and college credit at the same time, in order to pull off the feat.

Her family made the decision to pursue dual credit shortly after moving here in 2013 from upstate New York. Zedwick said the flexibility of home schooling allowed her to complete both high school and her associate degree in less than three years. She did all of this while maintaining a high enough GPA to maintain status in Waubonsee’s Honors Program.

But Zedwick’s accelerated path also came with sacrifices. Asked how she juggled the school work and still found time for hobbies such as reading, writing and drawing, she had one word: Perseverance.

Zedwick said she tried to join clubs – such as the Creative Writing Club at Waubonsee – but found it difficult to keep up with her school work as well. She also quit her 20-hour a week job at Culvers after two semesters.

“But the whole experience was still really fun,” she said. “I met a lot of people and I learned a lot.”

Zedwick will take a trip to Disney World with her family shortly after commencement, and then will spend her summer doing an accounting internship before continuing her higher education in September at Pensacola Christian College in Florida. She currently plans to pursue a degree in accounting or finance.

Brian McIntyre

Brian McIntyre, 71, of Ottawa, credits a series of miracles for where he is today: Alive, clean and sober for 25 years, a business owner, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, two-time liver transplant recipient, and - as of this month – a college graduate.

“I was a wild and crazy guy for 45 years,” he said, reflecting on his long journey toward a college degree just moments after completing his last final. “But at one point, I laid in a hospital bed and asked God what he wanted me to do. Since then, I live in solutions, not problems.”

Over the course of decades of drug abuse and alcoholism, McIntyre worked a series of jobs and even enrolled in college five separate times.

“But I never made it even to Spring Break,” he said. “I was too easily distracted in those days.”

In 2011, that changed. McIntyre enrolled at Waubonsee Community College and decided to stay in school until he finished his degree. He started classes in spring of 2012 and graduates this month with an associate degree in human services. He plans to continue his education further.

A certified counselor, DUI evaluator and substance abuse evaluator, McIntyre is now owner of Two Rivers Outreach in Streator, which offers DUI evaluations, risk education classes and substance abuse counseling. A two-time liver transplant recipient, he also works to promote the importance of organ donation.

McIntyre said being surrounded by “18-year-old kids,” in his classes at Waubonsee was at first intimidating for him, but he came to enjoy it.

“It made me more appreciative of young people and where they’re at in life,” he said. “I think it also made me a better grandfather and great-grandfather.”

McIntyre will proudly accept his diploma in front of his family during Waubonsee’s afternoon commencement ceremony. He said he hopes that his fortitude in returning to school and completing his degree at his age has inspired his own family, and others.

“My 37-year-old son went back to school, and I hope that maybe I had something to do with that,” he said. “You’re never too old to start over.”

This summer, McIntyre plans to run his business and continue his work supporting treatment groups, overdose awareness groups and needle exchanges.

“I have been given so many miracles in my life,” he said. “I am probably in the last quarter of my life now, and I am not going to waste it. It’s time to give back.”