May 20, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff WriterGrit, perseverance and strength were hallmarks of the two graduation events this weekend at Central Wyoming College.
During the school's 44th annual commencement ceremony Friday, CWC president Jo Anne McFarland shared stories about graduates who enrolled in school without knowing whether they could finish what they started.
"And they have surprised themselves," McFarland said, smiling at the group of 240 students who completed their associate degrees this semester. "I know you pushed yourselves beyond what you thought you were capable of achieving. ... It took a lot of hard work and a lot of determination."
She pointed to one student, Fincellius Grey Burnett Sr., who "grew up in a dysfunctional, alcohol family" and "blew off high school" in Blackfoot, Idaho.
"These are his terms," McFarland said. "He readily admits that he was a fall-down drunk with no possibilities in life."
In 2011, she said he decided he was "through running," and he enrolled at CWC to earn his degree in automotive technology. He began with developmental coursework then completed 80 additional credit hours before appearing on the Robert A. Peck Arts Center stage Friday evening with a 3.3 GPA.
"(It was) through sheer hard work and determination --not because he had it handed to him," McFarland said. "Now that is student success."
Another graduate who moved to Riverton for school is Roozario T. Wiggins Sr., who is the first member of his Louisiana-based family to graduate college. When McFarland mentioned his name, he pulled out a poster-sized photo montage of his loved ones, many of whom traveled to CWC for Friday's ceremony.
"Those stories show student grit," McFarland said. "It's what we mean by student success. It's what we aim for."
She had a similar message for students of CWC's Adult Education Program who graduated during a Saturday morning ceremony at the arts center. McFarland encouraged the high school equivalency graduates to continue in their educational pursuits.
"Because there's a great big world out there waiting for you, and you've already shown you have the grit to make it," she said. "I know all of you have worked very, very hard to accomplish your goal. ... Be proud of that, because it showed enormous strength and enormous character."
Caroline Mills recognized two of her Fort Washakie students who have worked for several years to earn their high school equivalency. Both became emotional, as did Mills, while she described the road blocks that the older students overcame to complete their degrees.
Maria Menard is an enrolled member of the Miniconjou Lakota Tribe in South Dakota and grandmother of eight children. She made her way to the Wind River Indian Reservation in 2005 and began working on her general educational development (GED). After a three-year break, Menard re-started her struggle with math, taking the equivalency test seven times before finally passing in December.
"When I called her and told her she passed, (she) had tears of happiness that caused me to have tears as well," Mills said, crying. "She couldn't believe she did it. ... She is a hardworking woman and very independent (and now) she can be seen smiling a lot."
Dexter Aoah, a 42-year-old member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and father of three children, also struggled with math after starting work toward his GED in 2004. Mills said he tried "every trick in the book" to avoid studying mathematics, but over time he became more confident in his abilities. He passed his math test in 2013 and took several other exams this year to complete his equivalency requirements.
"He doesn't know what to do with his time since he spent so many years with his education," Mills laughed. "It became a habit to come to the learning center."
She said she was proud of him for persevering.
"He has a good attitude and an open mind and will succeed at any future goal he sets for himself," Mills predicted.
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