The graduate we were supporting is a friend of ours. Originally from the midwest, she's nearly 50 now, with five grown children. She's overcome alcohol addiction and a hectic past. Her goal is to study journalism at a nearby university.
Ordinarily an outgoing, dynamic woman, her face was serious as she marched into the auditorium and, later, crossed the stage to accept her diploma and handshakes from the college officials. Afterwards, when we met up to congratulate her personally, she was still serious - and she thanked us several times for coming. She was with her daughter, who told me her mother is her role model.
When I was 37 I went back to school at a community college in Oregon. I had a BA in English, but I was getting divorced and needed to be able to support my two young children. I hadn't attended my BA graduation ceremony at the University of California at Santa Barbara, but I wanted to "walk" when I got my AS in computer programming from Umpqua Community College. I'd done it on my own, after all - gotten a new start. I used that degree for 25 years to support myself.
That's what community colleges are set up to do - to educate not only recent high school grads who are entering vocational trades or transferring to four-year universities, but also people coming back to school after many years away so they can start over.
My sister attended a community college in Kenai, Alaska to prepare for nursing school admission. She'll be starting at the University of Alaska in Anchorage in August at the age of 56.
At the other end of the story was the young woman who sat behind us on Friday night. Very young, with multiple piercings and a two-week-old baby daughter, sitting with her parents. I heard her talk about getting her GED, and I heard lots of talk about the baby between her and her parents, and saw multiple occurrences of passing the baby around between family members. I thought about the attention the girl is getting now as a young mother, and about the limitations ahead of her that she probably doesn't know about yet.
Maybe, 20 or 30 or 40 years from now, someone will come to her graduation ceremony at the community college and watch her walk across the stage for her diploma and her handshakes.