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Connections run deep for many in CWC class of 2014

Jun 2, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

This was the last commencement exercise for President Jo Anne McFarland, who is retiring after holding the presidential post for a quarter century.

Some members of this semester's graduating class at Central Wyoming College had never met one another before they came to commencement on May 16.

Others, like Tara and Kirsten Brown, had been well acquainted for a lifetime.

Kirsten is Tara's daughter, and they both walked across the stage to receive their associate's degrees on Friday.

"It has been so rewarding," Kirsten said of going to school with her mom. "She supported me for 21 years before I came to college, and when I came to college it didn't stop."

The two didn't share any classes - Kirsten earned her associate's degree in English and general studies while Tara pursued her associate's degree in early childhood - but they spent time together on campus when they could.

In contrast, identical twins Kaylie Randall and Kyla Rodriguez both are pursuing nursing degrees at the school, and they both served as student ambassadors this year.

"We do lots of stuff together," Randall said.

She was the only one of the sisters wearing a cap and gown on Friday, however. Randall completed her general studies associate's degree this semester and will return to CWC next year for nursing.

"I changed majors a few times," she laughed.

Rodriguez will complete her nursing degree next spring, then get a bachelor's degree online after moving to Kentucky with her husband.

The twins said they were a little sad not to be graduating together.

"But I'm glad for her," Rodriguez said of her sister.

Karla Borders also shares a close bond with one of her CWC peers: her husband David. He was in the audience Friday supporting her while she received her associate's degree in general studies.

"I've had a family, raised my kids - it was time," Borders said of completing her degree. "I went (to college) for a year out of high school. ... Twenty-three years later, I went back. (I) felt I needed to finish."

Now, she is working on a second associate's degree in business management. She will appear again as a graduate at next spring's commencement.

"Then I was thinking of being done, but I'm on a roll," Borders said.

Once she leaves CWC she plans to earn her bachelor's degree at the University of Wyoming Extension in Riverton.

Another nontraditional student, Ralph Estell, is a Riverton firefighter and former chief of the Riverton Volunteer Fire Department who retired last year from the U.S Navy. He said he enjoyed the opportunity to learn from his younger peers.

"It energizes you," Estell said.

He was one of the school's nine valedictorians this semester, when he completed his associate's degree in fire science. He lined up outside of the Robert A. Peck Arts Center Theater next to fellow valedictorian Coker Lee Haukass, who earned his associate's degree in business administration this year after more than a decade in the working world.

"I never thought I'd be here five years ago," said Haukaas.

Now, he has plans to get a bachelor's degree in Oregon.

"I'll go for the B.A., maybe the M.A.," he said. "We'll see how the B.A. goes. ... Anything is possible."

CWC's executive vice president for student and academic services Jason Wood read information about each valedictorian during Friday's commencement, including statements from Haukaas, who wrote that he "can't shake the feeling of being in a dream."

He thanked his professors, family and friends for helping him achieve his goal at CWC.

CWC president Jo Anne McFarland also commended her staff for their support of local students.

"Maybe it was a faculty member who took extra time to tutor a student after class," she said.

"Maybe some of you gave students a loan (for) gas money. Maybe you took the time to talk to a student who was wavering or nervous. ... Sometimes it's just being there that matters - listening, accepting and understanding."

This was the last commencement exercise for McFarland before her retirement in June. She has held the presidential post for a quarter-century and has worked for CWC for more than 40 years.

She received a standing ovation during the event, which was attended by members of the Wyoming Community College Commission in her honor.

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