Monday, May 15, 2017

UIS graduates set example by getting degree

More than a dozen family members cheered Saturday as Duane Willingham, 21, walked across the stage at the Prairie Capital Convention Center and became the first person in his family to earn a college degree.

Willingham was one of 1,270 University of Illinois Springfield graduates to participate in commencement ceremonies at the convention center. He majored in sociology and anthropology and hopes to have a career in higher education.

Already, Willingham’s trailblazing role as the first in his family to graduate from college has turned him into a role model for family members and people in his south Chicago neighborhood.

Speaking just before the commencement ceremony, Willingham said he appreciates the opportunity to talk other people about the advantages of a college education. “The things you learn in college, you can’t get anywhere else,” Willingham said. “I talk to old high school friends, people in my community and church. A lot of them haven’t seen people go to college and come back with a degree. I’ve had the awesome opportunity of telling them they can do it.”

Denise Sagendorph, 25, of Palatine also is the first person in her family to earn a college degree. She took online courses from UIS and never actually stepped foot on the campus. She earned a degree in computer science in 4 1/2 years while working and raising her daughter, now 7.

While Sagendorph took classes online, Willingham attended classes in Springfield. He said he liked the small campus atmosphere of UIS.

UIS Chancellor Susan Koch said she was especially proud of students like Willingham and Sagendorph. “My final message, to all of the graduating students, is that I’m proud of you. Every single student has a story to tell,” Koch said. “There has been a moment of adversity somewhere along the line and there has been a great challenge somewhere along the line. Every one of these students, some more than others, have really been determined.”

Out of 1,700 students eligible to graduate at UIS, the 1,270 students who participated in commencement marked the largest in UIS’ history. To accommodate the large number, the university opted for two separate ceremonies instead of one large event.

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on May 13, 2017.

Read the entire article online.

View commencement photographs from The State Journal-Register online.