May 13, 2012 - By Christina George, Staff WriterCWC hands diplomas to 303 graduates
Bert Oakley proved it's never too late to further one's education.
At 69 years old, the Riverton man was the oldest in this year's Central Wyoming College graduating class to walk across the Robert A. Peck Arts Center Theatre Friday night.
To a full house of friends and family of the 303-member 42nd graduating class, CWC president Jo Anne McFarland described Oakley as someone who feels that "he's never too old" to learn something new.
Oakley retired from the education field in 1991, which included 17 years teaching at Wind River middle and high schools. He later returned to school to earn a master's degree in education.
From there, he substitute taught and worked as an emergency medical technician.
Two years ago, he enrolled in CWC's fire science program.
"I am on the Battalion 1 fire department as a training officer and thought I ought to have it to encourage other firefighters to pick up the degree," Oakley said in a follow-up interview.
"It's kind of hard to tell them to get the degree if I don't have it."
Oakley said the fire science degree was easier for him to obtain than his bachelor's degree that he earned in his younger days because he's been teaching firefighters for years and knows the field.
"I feel that every day is an education," he said.
Oakley was not the only student McFarland singled out during the 90-minute ceremony on May 11.
She recognized three members of the graduating class who are also Lander Valley High School seniors.
Dylan Bergstedt, Ryan Buchmeier and James Olson received their associate's degrees through the Board of Cooperative Higher Educational Services program. BOCHES allows high school students to dually earn high school and college credit.
The three will graduate from LVHS on May 20.
Bergstedt was recognized later in the ceremony as one of this year's five valedictorians at CWC. The others are: Matthew Ayers, Melissa Fox, Kelli Niemeyer and Rhonda Walker.
"This class is memorable," McFarland told the audience. "They didn't limit themselves to what they know they can do."
She noted the 175 students sitting on stage was the most graduates to have ever participated in commencement.
McFarland said that 40 years ago, a high school graduate could get three out of four jobs. By 2018, that possibility will drop to one out of four jobs. Eighty percent of jobs today require some sort of post-secondary education.
"College really does give you a leg up," she continued. "It's no longer just a good thing to do. It's essential."
There were 379 degrees earned by the Class of 2012, which consisted of students from 27 states and three countries.
McFarland said about 22 percent of students began earning college credits while in high school through the BOCHES program. Nearly 19 percent of the graduates class are Hathaway Scholarship recipients.
The class ranges in age from 17 to 69, and about 19 percent identify themselves belonging to a minority group.
"We hope that you make daring leaps, and we know you will soar," McFarland said.
She said most graduates will not leave CWC with "crushing debt" as more than 93 percent had some form of financial aid.
"We've invested in your graduation because we believe it matters," she said.
CWC Student Senate president and Mikki Moriarity addressed her classmates, telling them that they are on an adventure, and sometimes it's important to slow down and take in your surroundings. She cited a list of 10 things she learned while at CWC, including to not "spread yourself too thin, but you can be too thick."
"What you do for your community, you do for yourself," she said was also on her list. "And never, never give up."
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