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Nineteen-year odyssey ends with degree

EmmOttro Grayslake waits for start College Lake County's graduatiSaturday Genesee Theater Waukegan. | Joe Shuman~for Sun-Times Media

Emma Ottro of Grayslake waits for the start of the College of Lake County's graduation Saturday at the Genesee Theater in Waukegan. | Joe Shuman~for Sun-Times Media

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2012 CLC graduation: by the

1,826 graduates

2,213 degrees or certificates earned

59 percent female

41 percent male

44 percent Age 18-24

25 percent Age 25-34

31 percent Age 35-over

33 percent Associate in Arts degree

21 percent Associate in Applied Science degree

29 percent Career certificates

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Updated: June 15, 2012 8:08AM

The College of Lake County held its 43rd commencement on Saturday and true to its mission, the school conferred degrees and certificates on people at all stages of life.

Among the many were fresh-faced kids headed to four-year colleges, middle-aged adults retraining after a layoff, and a mother of six who finally earned an associate of arts degree after first enrolling 19 years ago.

The latter is the story of Jeanne Williams of Zion, who piled into a truck with her husband and three of her kids after the more than two-hour-long graduation ceremony held at the Genesee Theater in Waukegan.

Employed as a purchasing manager, Williams said her many on-and-off years of coursework while trying to raise her children, now ages 8-17, had required hard work, sacrifice and expert juggling by her husband Keith.

A daughter in the backseat said she was looking forward to her mother finally joining the kids in the family pool instead of studying at a table nearby. Another girl piped up, “We’re proud of her.”

Williams said that while she’s not a math person, one of her favorite classes at CLC was algebra, thanks to instructor Nick Pond.

“He made me believe I could do it,” Williams said. “Every teacher I had really cared.”

Keith Williams said his wife’s accomplishment sends a message to their children: “Never give up.”

That was exactly the message of a commencement address by Walter Leise III, 42, a former Abbott Laboratories scientist and now CEO of his own medical products company, who said that because of his lackluster academic performance in high school, he graduated with “very few choices.”

After serving as a helicopter crew chief in the Army, Leise earned two degrees from CLC then went on to earn a PhD and MBA. He urged graduates to keep “running,” and to understand risk and reward.

“Running is working hard for your success regardless of any obstacles or opinions of people who want to hold you back,” Leise said. “It’s scary to take a risk. But to get the reward only takes hard work and dedication.”

Leise, who said he gained the confidence that he could succeed in college during a CLC algebra class taught by Tracey Hoy, who joined him on the stage to present the candidates for graduation, told grads that they had “jumped the canyon.”

It was a phrase that former construction worker Matthew Hoyt, 36, of Round Lake Beach, could identify with. Hoyt earned two associate degrees in 16 months after returning to CLC for the third time since 1995, and after recovering from injuries received in two serious accidents.

“I’ve overcome a lot of difficulties in my life,” Hoyt said. “I could no longer work construction, so I put all my energies into school.”

Hoyt, who will attend the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha in the fall, also has another reason rfor working toward his four-year degree — son Jordan, 12.

“I wanted to be a good role model for him,” Hoyt said.

What does Jordan think?

“He did good,” Jordan said.

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