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May 24, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

Want to find a 50-year-old valedictorian? Better look at a community college

One of the characteristics the community college has that normally is not shared by the major university is the wide variety of age groups represented in the student population.

In recent years, Central Wyoming College has had a valedictorian who was still in high school, as well as several valedictorians who were long past the "traditional" age of a college student. The accomplishment of 50-year-old Craig Haslam this year adds to the feel-good quotient generated by CWC's graduating class in 2013.

We have known Craig through news coverage of the Fremont County Fire District for many years, and he always has been a cooperative, helpful and knowledgeable official when it comes to assisting us in our work. Now, in his sixth decade of life, he is a college honors graduate as well.

Reporter Katie Roenigk wrote a feature story on the half-century-old valedictorian in Sunday's edition. If you haven't read it yet, the opportunity still exists, both in print and at dailyranger.com.

By no means is it impossible for a 50-year-old man to earn a university degree, but it is much more likely to occur at a community college. There is a certain flexibility in class scheduling, living arrangements, work schedules and family obligations that must be accommodated for someone in Craig Haslam's position to pursue and complete a college course of study, to say nothing of completing a course of study with a perfect grade-point average.

Such accommodations are the bread-and-butter of a good community college. Frankly, it could be said that Craig Haslam is what the community college is all about.

He is not alone in being a middle-aged graduate, or even valedictorian. Some years ago The Ranger's own Shirley Guthrie, a mother of two grown children, earned her CWC accounting degree in valedictory style. There have been others of similar age and similar achievement.

At the other end of the age spectrum, many dozens, even hundreds, of Fremont County students have earned dual college credit for courses taken in high school. This has prepared many of them to enter college with a leg up on the rigors of academic life after high school.

In between are the many other typical college-aged students of 18 to 21 pursuing their associate degrees. There are uncounted numbers of community residents of virtually every age who have taken a college course or two for enrichment, job enhancement, or the simple enjoyment of learning something new. The community college makes it all possible.

It should not be astonishing, then, to know that the president of United States has identified community colleges as a cornerstone of our nation's job training and retraining efforts as the United States continues a long, hard climb out of recession. The same sort of nimble academic programs and allowances that have served so many so well make it possible for the community college to embrace this important role in America's economic redevelopment.

The community college will never be confused with a major university or an Ivy League bastion of scholarship. But it is important to note that the reverse is true as well. Those hallowed institutions could not do many of the things that a well-founded, well-developed and well-run community college does --nor would they even try in most cases.

There is room for all in our enormous, diverse and complicated nation. And thank goodness for that. While we're at it, thank goodness for our 50-year-old, firefighting valedictorian; for the high school kids who venture on campus to get ahead in chemistry for college; for the empty-nested mom who heads to the art wing, enrolls in a class, and picks up a paintbrush; for the hundreds of young men and women who earn a degree and put it to use --and, most of all, for the community college that sets the stage for all of these worthy performances.

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