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SHERIDAN — Nothing quite symbolizes the hope, excitement and new opportunities of spring as graduates crossing the stage to accept their degrees and begin the next phase of their lives.
On Saturday, students were presented with the more than 450 degrees and certificates they earned this year at Sheridan College. In addition, nearly 20 University of Wyoming students were presented with their bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate degrees.
In recognition of those achievements, former SC dean of instruction Pete Simpson offered several pieces of advice to students.
“I’ve earned it; I’ve learned it, and you’ll take it,” Simpson said.
He cautioned students not to confuse success with making money. He also emphasized the importance of being kind, avoiding scapegoats and hatred. As the audience and graduates chuckled through his stories of past commencement speeches delivered, Simpson reminded those in attendance about the need for a sense of humor and the need to believe not only in oneself but also in a power greater than oneself.
Finally, he told graduates, “keep moving.”
Honorary degrees were also presented to local artist and philanthropist Neltje and Sheridan area resident Mel Heckman.
Sheridan College President Paul Young said Neltje has helped show students how to be inspired by the world around them, both through her art and her philanthropy.
“An accomplished abstract painter, you have conducted workshops for young people, stimulating them to think outside the box, to color outside the lines,” Young said.
Neltje accepted her honorary Associate of Fine Art in visual arts. Neltje reminded students to maintain their curiosity.
“If you keep your curiosity vamped up, your energies high, your integrity in order and your love of life resplendent, you will do just great,” she said.
The second honorary degree presented Saturday was to one of the last remaining Pearl Harbor survivors. He was 17 years old at the time of that attack and witnessed the bombing of the USS Arizona before sprinting into the water in an attempt to save his fellow soldiers.
He served as an aviation mechanic, a pilot and an officer but never considered his actions heroic. He has since worked to assist other veterans through fundraising and volunteer efforts.
“You love your country and the men and women who have served; Mel Heckman you are truly an American hero and a Wyoming and Sheridan treasure,” Young said.
As everyone in the Sheridan College Bruce Hoffman Golden Dome rose to honor Heckman, a thunderous round of applause filled the arena along with whistles and more than a few cheers. That appreciation for those who have served the United States in the armed forces continued throughout the commencement ceremony, with each of the graduates who had served getting a little extra love from the audience.
Other awards presented Saturday included the President’s Award, which is given to a student who has at least a 3.25 GPA and is active in college activities. This year’s award was presented to Kara Bacon.
The Northern Wyoming Community College District is comprised of Sheridan College and Gillette College. The district awarded a record number of degrees and certificates this year. In 2013, 659 total degrees and certificates were awarded; this year, that number was 768. Of those, 466 were awarded by Sheridan College and 302 by Gillette College.
Part of the NWCCD’s strategic plan includes the goal of awarding 1,000 certificates or degrees each year by 2020. Initiatives to reach this goal include improving methods of testing readiness to ensure early and accurate course selection, new awards to recognize career-oriented learning, increased emphasis on student engagement with faculty and co-curricular activities, strengthening advising and creating realistic academic plans.
“While it is good to see progress, we must continue to work with out industry partners and others to ensure we are building capacity to serve our region well into the future,” Young said in a press release Sunday. “We know an estimated 65 percent of jobs in the state will require a credential by 2020, we have to continue to do our part.”