For high school graduates in the class of 2020, Friday was a night of reclamation.
For others, Glen Oaks Community College’s 54th commencement was the end of an impressively long, odds-defying journey.
The Centreville-area college staged its first in-person graduation ceremony since 2019, as about 130 of the school’s 181 graduates took part in the program. It was also live streamed through various platforms.
Prior to the ceremony, GOCC communications professor Michelle McNamara made an astute observation about the 20-year-olds who were deprived of a normal ending to their senior year of high school.
“A lot of today’s graduates were high schoolers from the class of 2020. If they had a graduation, it was either very small scale with no guests allowed or it was maybe a drive-thru kind of thing,” she said. “So, tonight’s graduation is an emotional night for parents and maybe some of the students; it’s likely the first real graduation they’ve either witnessed for this child or been in as a student.”
According to Glen Oaks officials, the average age of this year’s graduates was 26, with the youngest just 16 and the oldest 61.
Friday’s graduation was a moment Centreville’s Rebecca Hunt did not expect to ever see. A 1999 graduate of Centreville High School, when her last name was Prichard, Hunt said she was “young and dumb,” and got married right out of high school. It was a decision that shaped the path of her destiny.
“Unfortunately, it was a route that did not lead me to college right away,” she said. “Between now and then, I’ve experienced two marriages, two divorces, I opened my own daycare, I’ve fostered and eventually adopted two kids, so there’s been a lot over the past 23 years.”
Hunt, 41, actually managed to squeeze in some schooling, picking up a class at Glen Oaks as circumstances – and time – allowed. But she stalled out with about five classes to go.
Hunt said being so close to earning her associate’s degree was constantly on her mind. Finally, she said and with the help of her boyfriend, she decided to finish what she had started more than two decades earlier.
“It wasn’t easy and it took a lot of time and commitment, but the professors here are pretty awesome … so, this is a very proud moment. I’m real nervous right now, but I’m proud,” she said. “I never thought I’d be able to come back to college and finish my degree, especially with two kids and a full-time job.”
Hunt, whose degree is in general studies, said the hardest part about returning to college as an older student was trying to stay awake in order to finish studying. She recalled countless nights falling asleep with text books and notepads in her lap while seated on her family room couch.
A manager at the BP station in Middlebury, Ind., Hunt said family members and friends were joining her in a celebration Saturday night in Sturgis.
There was no shortage of “never-thought-I’d-see-this-day” moments stemming from the graduation. Amy McClain was no exception.
The 57-year-old Sturgis resident started taking classes toward her LPN in 2006. She completed the program in 2008, but still lacked an associate’s degree.
“My journey actually started in Florida, where I lived and I didn’t finish high school, but I went back at 27, got my diploma, had four kids, I was a single parent, so I waited until the kids were old enough before I decided to go to college,” McClain said.
McClain took advantage of Michigan’s “Future for Frontliners” program, which paid her tuition to return to school and secure an associate’s degree in applied science in nursing. Armed with her two-year degree, McClain can now work at a hospital and plans to secure a bachelor’s degree.
Proud as she was Friday night, McClain also paused to consider the challenges she endured along her eventful journey.
“This was very hard, I made a lot of sacrifices, there were days when I didn’t think I could do it anymore, but I stuck it out with the support of my husband and now I’m here graduating,” she said. “It’s a happy day, it’s an emotional day. No regrets, though. Absolutely no regrets.”
Like Hunt, McClain said finding time to study and learning good study habits were a challenge.
McClain and her husband are Sturgis residents. They own Chuck’s Auto Service.
Also Friday, Glen Oaks President David Devier recognized several individuals during the ceremony. Those receiving awards were:
Outstanding Service Award – Tom Miller.
Adjunct Faculty Teaching Excellence Award – Carmen Hochstetler.
E. J. Shaheen Chair for Teaching Excellence – Susan Louis.
Distinguished Alumni Award – Jade Klingler, FNP.
Fellows Award – Raymond Dresser (Posthumously) and Gretchen Dresser; James Riley (Posthumously); and Dale Gray (Posthumously) and Phyllis Gray.
President’s Award – Abby McNamara.
This article originally appeared on Sturgis Journal: Glen Oaks Community College holds ceremony for class of 2022