Jim Owen's mother graduated from Harper College's Nursing program when she was an adult, telling her son at the time that no one is ever too old to learn something new.
This weekend, it was his turn.
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Owen, who built a career as a cabinet-maker before enrolling in Harper's Nursing program himself as a 40-something dad of two grown children, crossed the College's commencement stage on Saturday as a smiling graduate. He has a job lined up as a surgical nurse, and his own advice to pass along.
Everyone, he says, is capable of something new so long as they put their mind to it.
Owen is among more than 3,500 Harper students who earned degrees or certificates during the 2012-2013 academic year. About 550 of them participated in the graduation ceremony, shaking hands with President Dr. Ken Ender as new alumni as the sun shone overhead and the breeze ruffled their tassels.
This year's class included 31 students with a perfect 4.0 GPA, students who'd studied abroad in countries ranging from China to Costa Rica, more than 150 high school students who'd earned a Harper credential as part of the College's growing dual credit program, a 71-year-old who'd picked up a certificate in electronics, 14 first-time recipients of a certificate offered through Harper's new Advanced Manufacturing program -- some of whom already have been offered full-time jobs in the industry -- members of the national champion men's cross country team, the winner of a prestigious $30,000 scholarship, and a graduate who will continue her education as a fellow studying education in Germany.
"You are talented. You are accomplished," Dr. Ender told the graduates. "We are so, so proud of you."
Commencement speaker Jane Oates, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Employment and Training Administration, praised Harper as a college where faculty and staff take their jobs seriously.
They loved who the students were when they arrived on campus, she said, and they love every minute of what they've seen them accomplish on their way to the commencement stage.
"The certificate or degree you earned here at Harper College is your ticket to change the world," she said, also telling the students to celebrate -- "You've earned this," she said -- and be courageous.
These are difficult times, she said, but "this country has been through much, much worse."
Looking out at the sea of graduates, she said, gave her significant hope that America will emerge from current economic and workforce challenges smarter and more committed than ever.
"There is greatness sitting in front of me. We will not only survive. We are going to dominate," said Oates, who oversees a national effort to deliver training and employment programs for America's workers, with a specific focus on good jobs in good industries. "Have the courage to make change. You have the ability to change the way things are, to the way you want them to be."