From the 102 Millard South High School dual enrollment students to 63-year-old grandmother, Geraldine Kiryakov, each Metropolitan Community College student had a different motivation and journey to completion to celebrate on Friday at the 2023 Commencement Ceremony.
Some of the 746 MCC students at Baxter Arena will go straight into the workforce, while others will transfer to a four-year college. No matter where they go next, all in attendance on Friday evening were there to recognize seeing an associate degree, certificate of achievement or career certificate to the finish. In total, more 1,700 MCC students completed academic programs in the 2022-23 academic year, a nearly 5% increase from 2021-22.
Kiryakov, who completed an associate in Human Services for Chemical Dependency Counseling, said her own experience with addiction eventually led her to pursue education to help others break the cycle. Kiryakov, who has been sober since 1991, said she learned of the MCC chemical dependency program through a contact with the College’s 180 Prison Re-Entry Assistance Program.
Kiryakov said it was important to her to take a moment to celebrate completing her degree with her grandchildren — Julian, a 12-year-old boy, and, Aliyana, a 9-year-old girl. She raised them both since their infancy.
“I’m the first in my family to graduate [college] and wanted my grandkids to see that they can dream and have a vision,” Kiryakov said.
Kiryakov said dreaming wasn’t something felt she had the luxury to do after “getting a late start in life.” After getting sober, she focused on paying bills and raising her grandchildren. Now, as she approaches retirement age, she is looking forward to starting a new stage of her career.
“I want to help other people with my education and by sharing my story,” Kiryakov said.
Kiryakov’s story fit well with the theme of Theresa Marie Washa’s speech — the “212 mindset,” referring to the temperature in which water boils. At 211 degrees water is hot. At 212, it changes properties. This seemingly small separation in temperature is enough of a difference to power a steam locomotive, said Washa.
Washa started working on her degree at MCC in her 20s but didn’t earn an associate in criminal justice until she reached her 40s. What was different this time was where she concentrated her attention.
“I couldn’t go back to the 90s to get my degree, but I could make it happen here and now,” Washa said.
Mallory Young, 21, earned a general studies associate degree and will pursue her Nebraska real estate license in the coming weeks with all prerequisites completed at MCC to be able to sit for the exam. She said learning from instructors who work in the industry helped her refine her interest in becoming a leasing agent.
“My teachers are out there in the world doing this. They inspire me. I’m feeling confident and ready for the real estate exam,” Young said.
Young said it’s a good feeling heading off the stage at graduation to know she won’t be hobbled to pay off student loans.
“My dad is in his 40s and is still working on paying off his student loans, so I thought, ‘Why not find a way to work around that,’” Young said.
Abdullahi Farah, 21, earned an Associate of Applied Science in Information Technology with a Career Certificate in Database Administration. He has a paid internship at Mutual of Omaha.
Farah moved to the U.S. from South Africa with his family at 12. He took a year off after finishing high school at Omaha South and wanted to make sure he was ready for college before enrolling.
He is grateful that his college education started at MCC.
“The reason I chose MCC is because of [the College’s] core belief in career readiness. I would recommend to anyone to try a community college first to see if college is right for you,” Farah said.