It's a 'family affair' at WNC graduation

Amy Lisenbe/Nevada Appeal

Amy Lisenbe/Nevada Appeal

Today, 426 will walk.

Some are grandparents, others are barely old enough to drive " together, they will gather at 7 p.m. upon the main stage of the Carson City Community Center and receive degrees and certificates from Western Nevada College.

That the demographic of this year's 37th graduating class (ranging in age from 17 to 71) is a reflection of the wide net the school casts is an understatement, said WNC director of information Anne Hansen.

"When you take a glance at who our student body is, you find it's every kind of (person) in the community," she said. "We have people who worked decades, raised families and now that it's time for them " they go back to school.

"We have single parents, trying to balance work, raising children " and school. We have young students who are just at the beginning .... On graduation, they all have one thing in common they'll take with them "they're a part of the WNC family."

Not just a microcosm of Northern Nevada, the school's 2008 graduates have also overcome much to share the stage.

"In Nevada, we have a large number of residents that are first-generation college students. There's a tremendous amount of pride (on graduation). I love the looks in children's eyes when they see their parents cross the stage, or vice versa. "One student who said she gets a "little emotional" just thinking about today's graduation is Carson resident Shelina Thomas. Thomas, 39, a graduate of Dayton High School in 1987, is mother to two daughters, Mariah, 21, and Kathryn, 10.

In her early 20s, Thomas decided to pursue a degree, but raising a daughter and working full-time did not give her the resources necessary to realize her goal of becoming an accountant.

She worked several jobs before gaining employment at WNC as a secretary for the school's facilities department.

It was then she realized she had to go back to school.

"I realized quickly how important education is," she said. "Also, in raising two girls, I realized I couldn't tell them how important it is without doing it myself.

"... So, I saw what I had to do."

Thomas was able to keep her job and go back to school "three-quarter time" in 2006. But something happened in the almost two decades between stints in education " her priorities shifted.

"It's funny how life changes your (outlook)," she said. "When I went back to school, I realized I just wanted to work in education.

"So, I set a timeline how long it would take me to become a teacher and it was kind of daunting when I figured out how many credits it would take. We're talking three more years from now " I'm going to be 42 when I set foot into a classroom.

"But, you know, my daughters, they just tell me how proud they are of me " they're a great motivater."

Mary Strachen, 17, said she didn't need a lot of motivation to graduate from WNC before most of her peers are even three-quarters done with high school.

She had only to look at her sisters.

Mary, the youngest of seven children, watched her three older sisters (all homeschooled) enroll at WNC and go on to choose a career path that suited them.

"I just kind of watched and saw how happy they were at (WNC)," Mary said. "So, it just seemed like a good fit that I follow in their footsteps."

Mother Jean Strachen, who claims that Mary attended her first college course at WNC when she was only 12 " with the supervision of her older siblings " said even though her children were homeschooled, the curriculum at WNC proved to jibe with what she was teaching.

"At WNC the staff and faculty was always supportive of the girls " always looking out for them. They made it a positive, safe environment. And the ideas the (girls) brought back, were always sparks for good dinner conversation. I'm a big believer in community college."

Mary's eldest sister, Anna, 24, is a missionary nurse in the Sudan. Lily, 22, is a teacher at Grace Christian Academy in Minden. Grace, 19, graduated WNC last year and is transferring to get her bachelor's degree in criminal justice at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas, this fall.

Mary's trio of older brothers, Scotty, 30, Charlie, 27, and Woody, 25, are all members of the work force " Woody was recently discharged from the Marines after four years.

As for Mary, she said she'll probably go work for a year and then explore getting a bachelor's degree in landscape architecture or at a culinary institute.

"I think it's special, to graduate WNC, but I don't think I'm special," Mary said. "All my friends are still in high school, so I think it brought perspective to a lot of things " I think I matured a lot faster."

Mother Jean Strachen said she's "ready for grandchildren" after getting her seven through school and onto "real life."

More recently, the mother/educator, said the tables have turned.

"Now they all look at me and say 'mom, now you should go back to school'," she said. "I've thought about it. If I go, I will go to just learn. What do I need a degree for at 60? I'll continue to learn though " and I will always encourage my children to continue too.

"...And if I go, it'd be to WNC."

"She'd be welcome," said WNC spokeswoman Hansen. "Here, it's a family affair."

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