Perciliano Ugalde, 24, left Mexico in 1993 to chase the American dream. Dressed in cap and gown Tuesday night, he caught it.
"For me, it's a dream come true," he said. "I said to myself when I got here, 'I'm going to get my high school diploma then I'm going to go to college.'"
Walking across the stage of the community center to receive his associate of arts degree seemed unlikely, however, when he first arrived in Fallon, not able to speak the language.
"I thought I couldn't do it -- it was way too much," he remembered. "But it got easier. "
He enrolled in English classes then received his high school equivalency diploma in 1996. He joined 385 students in receiving 421 associates degrees and certificates from Western Nevada Community College.
Ugalde plans to attend the University of Nevada, Reno for a bachelor's degree in business administration in hopes of moving into a management position at Carson City's J.C. Penny where he works.
Crowds filled the community center beyond capacity during the commencement exercise honoring the largest graduating class in history. People were asked to move out of the aisles into the foyer where a large screen and chairs were set up to comply with fire codes.
Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman congratulated students as the ceremony's keynote speaker.
He told how he and his wife moved to Las Vegas in 1964 with $87 between them -- and a "fine education."
It was that education, he said, that enabled him to become one of city's premier criminal defense attorneys, and rise to fame as the lawyer to the mob.
"I am blessed because I am the luckiest man in the world ," he said. "I am the happiest man alive. Some people say I'm too much of a dreamer but I believe you can achieve anything you dream."
As an attorney Goodman said he most enjoys defending the unpopular and the poverty stricken to guarantee that, regardless of status, everyone is treated equally.
Yaraseth Lugo, 21, wants to use her education to benefit others as well.
She plans to pursue dual degrees in elementary education and social work.
"They're the two professions where you can really help," she said. "In teaching you can change a child's life and in social work, you can guide people who didn't get that chance earlier in their lives."
Regent Howard Rosenberg spoke of the importance of education in not only making a living but in making a life.
It is a philosophy Charles Lawson, 61, subscribes to. Although retired from his career as a construction project manager, he received his associate's degree and plans to further his education with a business degree from UNR.
He is running for Lyon County commissioner, where he has lived for 31 years, and may pursue a law degree.
"It's something I just want to do -- to be educated. I want to set an example for my grandchildren," he said. "I just never seemed to have the time while I was working and raising a family. Now I have time."
Lawson has three children and six grandchildren.
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