This month, approximately 380 Waubonsee Community College students joined thousands of others around the nation in a rite of passage that marks the end of one journey and the beginning of the next; commencement.

There are so few moments in life where the work, perspectives and experiences of our past so visibly intersect with the path one will take in the future, where goals are attained and dreams are ready to be pursued.

To understand how much a degree contributes to a bright futures for our graduates, consider the profile of a typical Waubonsee credit student. More than half of our students this year were first-generation college students, whose parents did not attain an associate degree or higher. Slightly more than half are female, and the average age of students enrolled in credit courses is 24.

Completion of a college degree means that many of our students are now the first in their family to possess the necessary qualifications for a higher paying job. Many families now have one or two parents better able to provide for their children. Many individuals who may have thought college was out of reach now have that pride of accomplishment and hope for a fulfilling career.

Let me introduce you to a few of our amazing graduates:

Dimitry Husen is a nursing student who has performed volunteer work at Wayside Cross Ministries and works full time in a nursing home. He managed to juggle both of those responsibilities while completing his studies here at Waubonsee.

Claudia Resendiz, a Gustafson scholar, transformed during her time here from a quiet and reserved student to someone who blossomed and became a leader on campus as a member of Student Senate and Latinos Unidos. She went on the college’s first Alternative Spring Break trip this year to volunteer for a week in Tennessee.

At Waubonsee, Nixa Del Real Robles was an accomplished student-athlete who went to nationals two years in a row for cross country. She was active in Latinos Unidos and the Christian Athlete Group. Her counselor in athletics said that she “takes advantage of every opportunity and resources available to her and gives 110 percent of herself in everything she does.” Nixa will attend Aurora University in the fall.

Dan Dwyer, of Cortland, is a combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and has been using his GI Bill to earn his degree. Dan served as our Veterans Club President for a year and has spoken at the Waubonsee Veterans Day Ceremony twice, sharing his story and the importance of supporting fellow student veterans. For Dan, completing his degree was a struggle but he returned this spring to complete his Auto Body Repair degree. While at Waubonsee, not only has he served as a club president and member, but he was also very successful in an auto body national skills competition as part of a Waubonsee team in two different years. He recently took part in a Wounded Warriors Project race in Washington D.C.

An interesting statistic about this year’s graduation class is that our youngest graduate completed her studies while still 17-years-old (she turned 18 this month). She was home schooled and took advantage of our dual-credit programs to complete her high school degree and her associate degree at the same time. She’ll spend her summer doing an internship in accounting and then enroll in college in Florida in the fall. Our oldest graduate is a 71-year-old who has battled health and addiction issues to turn his life around and become a business owner, and is now a college graduate.

These are just a few of the stories that making working at a community college so inspiring. The backgrounds of our students and graduates are diverse and they have much to contribute to our communities. Challenges have strengthened their resolve and have made that moment when they walked across the stage one of great pride that we all feel fortunate to have been a part of. This is what the mission of a community college is all about, empowering learners with the broad knowledge and skills essential for making positive contributions in an interconnected world.