Waubonsee Community College Student Senate President Sarah Hay spoke confidently about the value of her education from the stage at graduation Thursday night.
"I don't know the next time I'll need trigonometry to draw the perfect circle," she said, drawing a knowing laugh from the other graduates who had the same mathematics professor she did. But that class, and others, taught her critical-thinking skills she intends to use in the next stage of her life. "Learning is about so much more than what is going to be on the next test," she said.
While other people her age are accepting high school diplomas, Hay picked up an associate degree, getting a jump start on her eventual goal of obtaining a bachelor's degree in international studies, specializing in the Middle East and diplomacy. She attributed that interest to a course she took in world events.
Hay, of Aurora, was the youngest graduate, at age 18, in the Class of 2011's 864 graduates. About 250 took part in the ceremony in the gymnasium in Erickson Hall. She was home-schooled, and began taking dual-credit courses at Waubonsee when she was 14. She will attend Grand Valley State University in the fall.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, the featured speaker, pointed out other 2011 graduates with great stories she has met.
They included 38-year-old Carla Childs of Montgomery.
Childs, a single mother of six (including two who are adopted and one of which has epilepsy) took the Waubonsee assessment test on a whim while accompanying her oldest daughter. "'Mom, we should do this together,'" her daughter said.
Childs completed her associate degree in two years, including time spent studying in Costa Rica, and will transfer to Southern Illinois University in the fall to pursue a degree in criminal justice and sociology. She hopes one day to attend law school.
How did she manage this? "Many nights of not cooking dinner," Childs said after the ceremony, crediting her children with helping. "And just keeping my nose to the grindstone."
Simon also gave kudos to Alexandra "Ally" Domar of Maple Park. "A lot of us believe she will soon be hosting some sort of TV show about autos," Simon said. Domar, 24, earned two associates degrees, in automotive technology and auto body. She was the first woman to earn the auto body degree at WCC, and only the second woman to get the auto tech degree. She won the state SkillsUSA competition in auto refinishing, and will represent the state at the national contest in June.
Simon spent the earlier part of the day visiting with students and faculty, as part of her yearlong "Complete College" tour. She intends to visit all 48 community colleges in the state about the value of earning a degree or credential, to increase graduation rates.
"We (the state) have invested in your degree ... and we are pleased because your education won't only serve you, it will serve the state of Illinois," Simon said. "Graduates from here will go on to more schools, better jobs and more income throughout a lifetime."