For the first time in two years, City Colleges of Chicago celebrates in-person commencement ceremonies – Chicago Tribune

Wintrust Arena was awash in a sea of ​​red, green, brown and purple academic attire on Sunday afternoon as the City Colleges of Chicago celebrated in-person debuts for the first time in two years, for 1,700 graduates.

At the first of two ceremonies, the graduates of the classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022 from Malcolm X College, Harry S. Truman College, Wilbur Wright College and Olive-Harvey College were cheered on by their loved ones. The school’s faculty and leaders, valedictorian Olive-Harvey and, in a virtual message, Mayor Lori Lightfoot delivered words of inspiration before the graduates walked across the stage.

Mark Potter, provost and director of studies for City Colleges of Chicago, opened the ceremony with a message about resilience to those who proudly wear their caps and robes.

“Each of you is unique, but we all share something in common,” Potter said. “You have navigated a global pandemic, distance education, virtual student services and new technologies, all while managing your complex lives.”

More than 60% of 2022 graduates are the first members of their family to attend university. More than three-quarters are semi-finalists for the Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, a highly selective scholarship for the nation’s top community college students to complete their bachelor’s degrees at four-year colleges or universities. About a quarter of the graduates were former Chicago public school students who benefited from free classes and books.

“The pandemic may have changed your plans, but you fought back,” Potter said. “You have proven that you can adapt and thrive.”

Among the graduates who persevered through the pandemic was Kristen Medrano, Olive-Harvey’s valedictorian and graduation lecturer.

Medrano started college in August 2020 to pursue her associate’s degree in child development, early childhood education, a business Medrano said terrified her.

As the mother of five children aged 3, 6, 13, 15 and 17, she had to balance her schoolwork and that of her children – who were learning remotely at the time – sitting on various parent committees and coaching. youth in basketball and T-ball. Medrano said some nights she fell asleep just after 2 a.m. and was ready to start the day at 5:30 a.m.

“I don’t come from a family where everyone went to college or everyone made the journey to even finish high school, so just being able to see myself starting this journey while being a mom and juggling other chores makes my kids excited and they’re supportive,” Medrano said.

Medrano’s advice for those starting college is to accept that there will be challenges along the way, but there is no obstacle too big to overcome.

“As Olive-Harvey’s valedictorian this year, which I never would have imagined, everyone kept saying be positive, when you talk, be positive,” Medrano said. “But I think it’s about being honest and truthful about our travels.”

When Medrano took the stage to address her fellow graduates, she shared her personal story. She introduced herself as a 35-year-old Mexican American mother of five who faced “thickets on the road.”

Medrano said being a mother, dealing with financial issues and fearing she was too old to graduate held her back. As she pursued her associate degree, she admitted to feeling tired, but a professor pushed her to continue, the same advice she gave to the class of 2022.

“Fight for what makes you happy in the world,” Medrano said. “Find it, insist on it, come back for it.”

Medrano’s goal is to become an early childhood educator and teacher at Olive-Harvey.

Jeffery Dillard, a professor at Olive-Harvey, referenced the 1988 song “Don’t Believe the Hype” by hip-hop group Public Enemy.

“Graduates, you have to find your own truth,” Dillard said. “For many of you, if you had listened to all the authorities, experts and critics, you wouldn’t be graduating today. You didn’t believe the hype.

At the end of the ceremony, parents, extended family and friends cheered the graduates on with applause, honking and clapping.

The second half of the ceremony was held Sunday evening to celebrate the graduates of Richard J. Daley College, Harold Washington College and Kennedy-King College.

Michael Nwaigbo, who is the valedictorian of Kennedy-King College, earned a Star scholarship after graduating from Hyde Park Academy.

Nwaigbo graduated with an associate of science degree in 2021 and said he was excited to finally celebrate in person with his peers.

“I thought we wouldn’t graduate at all,” he said.

Nwaigbo is currently working in the food industry to save to go back to civil engineering school.

His goal is to get a doctorate in engineering at age 24 so he can start a construction company that provides affordable housing for low-income families in the Chicago area.

“I want to help people create their own spaces where they can create new experiences and new memories,” Nwaigbo said. “There is a difference between having a house and having a home.”

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