Graduation day offers new start for non-traditional students
Teen parents Thornel and Darla Ruff left college on the backburneruntil their three children (ages 25-31) graduated from college. Now, Thornel, a sports industry operations major and Darla, an integrative therapeutic practices major, will have their time to don cap and gown. On Sunday at 2 p.m., their children will watch them walk across the stage at Metropolitan State College of Denver’s Spring Commencement at the Convention Center.
Darla and Thornel Ruff
All along it was about doing the right thing says Darla. “I was a teen mom and we made a choice to get married and raise a family,” says Darla. “It was really a choice to be available for our children and support them.” That meant going directly to work says Thornel. “I’ve had a lot of different careers, but without a degree I was limited for management positions.”
But he admits going back has had its own hurdles. “It’s challenging to be disciplined after all those years to train your mind to go back to school,” says Thornel, who’s working towards a high school head football coach position. “But now that I’m older, I’m more focused and don’t let anything deter me.” He adds, “Our children make fun of us because we have homework and can’t go to play. But they are proud of us for getting it done.”
The Ruff's will be among 1,400 graduates who have unique stories of their own.
Political science major Kyle Haley, the recipient of the 2008 President’s Award, has set a positive tone for his career by helping communities locally and globally. Haley, who maintains a 4.0 GPA, created his own minor in Middle Eastern Studies. In the summer of 2007, he spent nine weeks in an Arabic immersion program at Beloit College in Wis., known for its language immersion programs.
“After 9-11, what really caught my attention was the response from the everyday American,” says Haley, who would like to do civil rights work for the Middle East community and one day travel there. “No one, not even the television pundits, knew about the culture.”
Outside of the classroom, Haley has held leadership roles with a number of organizations including as senator in the Student Governemnt Assembly and as vice president of the Political Science Association. Haley also served as the community-based learning coordinator in the Office of Student Activities and used the position to establish the Clement Lamoure Food Ban, which hosts the “Homeward Bound: Panel on Homelessness in Denver.” Haley has organized a campus-wide hunger and homelessness drive entitled “Have You Ever Lost Your Way.”
He says it was his way of helping students who may need help on campus and the homeless people he saw regularly downtown. “I lived across from the Denver Rescue Mission and saw homeless people every day,” says Haley. “It was hard to know exactly what to do. After reading mayor Hickenlooper’s plan, it seemed unique and it was practical.”
Tamela Hamblin, a two-time kidney transplant patient, is graduating with a degree in technical communications with an emphasis in technical writing and editing. Because of the medical setbacks, including the death of her husband, it has taken her eight years to graduate. “The challenge is three steps forward and two steps back,” says Hamblin. “But I have to be practical about it. Don’t feel sorry for myself. Every college student needs to learn about pacing yourself.”
Her attention to detail is legendary among the faculty. Some have said they could grade papers by her work. “I never thought of myself as a tech person. My background is more humanities and literature.” Still she has managed to jump onto the Internet, having taking all on-line classes courses for her last semester. “It’s convenient to be able to access online,” says Hamblin. “There are interesting channels of communications, such as blogging. I find it’s more convenient. You can work at your peak alertness hour.”
Sara Lesko, a recreation professions major with a concentration in therapeutic recreations, has helped veterans of World War II, Vietnam and Iraq. “It’s rewarding,” says Lesko. “Some people are born with a disability. “But when you have a newly acquired brain or spinal injury, you need to adapt to it.” When working with the veteran community at the Veterans Administration Hospital for a 15-week unpaid internship in recreation therapy, she saw how their experiences still affected them decades later. One case in particular will stay with her for a long time as well. Earlier this semester she worked with a Vietnam veteran on getting better. He took a turn for the worse. But part of her responsibility is to stay the course. So instead of them working to reach the goals they had set, she “offered support and comfort. I gave him his favorite food and played his favorite music.” He passed away in April.
Commencement Keynote: Colorado Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien will deliver the keynote speech to a crowd of more than 1,400 graduates, the largest graduating class ever at the College. Of those graduating 20.3 percent are students of color, with 11.3 percent being Latino.
For more information on the commencement ceremony, go to http://www.mscd.edu/commencement/index.shtml.
The ceremony can be viewed live online during the proceedings. Go to http://www.mscd.edu/commencement/webcast/.