Monday's graduation from Western Nevada College was more than a symbolic rite of passage for young couple Trevor and Kelly Freitas.
"It's everything," said Trevor, 24.
With her nursing degree, Kelly has already been hired as a registered nurse at Renown Medical Center and will be able to support Trevor as he pursues his bachelor's degree at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Embracing their future means the parents of a 3-year-old boy can also let go of their past.
"We're on food stamps. We're on Medicaid," explained Kelly, 23. "All of that will be discontinued in June because we won't qualify. My salary will be too high."
It's a crutch Trevor is ready to be done with.
"We're happy to be on our own and be independent," he said.
The couple joined the 467 students in the class of 2012 who received their diplomas Monday in a ceremony at the Pony Express Pavilion. Five earned bachelor's degrees in construction management, and 10 students received bachelor's degrees as part of WNC's teacher preparation partnership with Nevada State College.
Donal Hummer, a member of the WNC Foundation Board since 1998 and chairman from 2009-2011, received an honorary degree.
He urged the graduates to value theirs.
"As you get older, you'll lose jobs, you'll have jobs," he said. "One thing they'll never be able to take away from you is your education and the degree you earned today."
Heather Dodson, president of the Associated Students of Western Nevada, told her fellow graduates she had no intention of going to college until she moved to Nevada in 2009.
For seven months, she said, she was unable to find a job. Reluctantly, she signed up for classes, but was nervous about her first day.
"I have to say, I've never been more welcomed or accepted by so many caring people," she said.
After receiving her first report card - her grades validating her hard work and dedication - she knew she'd made the right decision.
"I began to wonder why I didn't attend college earlier," she said. "Going to college has given me so many opportunities."
She plans to continue her education in Virginia and pursue a career as a parole and probation officer with the ultimate goal of becoming a prison warden.
"This has all been made possible by Western Nevada College," she said.
Jason Geddes, a member of the Nevada System of Higher Education's Board of Regents, encouraged the graduates to continue to pursue their dreams beyond graduation.
"I'd like to tell you you can just sit back and relax," he said. "But you can't. For a dream to grow, it takes pragmatism. You know how to work for what you want because you know where you want that sacrifice to take you."
He reminded them they are entering the workforce during the most difficult economic period in generations.
"We look to you to help lead us to better times," he said. "Now is not the time for you to sit back. It's the time to pick up the charge and serve. It's the time to work to make Nevada better.
"I am confident you will rise to the occasion. We will always be proud to call you WNC alums."