INA, Ill. – Although it was the 42nd time a crop of graduates crossed the Rend Lake College Commencement stage, Friday night was a night of many firsts for the college and its Class of 2009.
The 818 graduates who were conferred 1,376 associate’s degrees and certificates is the largest graduating class the college has ever produced. A record audience of family members, friends and supporters was on hand, spilling from the hallways onto the sidewalks outside Waugh Gymnasium. And more graduates from the Class of 2009 than from any other class in RLC history decided to attend their graduation and walk across the RLC Commencement stage.
“We have reached our capacity and we are in the process of looking at some alternatives next year to support what we expect to be another increase in the size of our 2010 graduating class,” RLC President Charley D. Holstein said Monday. “I have to say, it’s a great problem to have. Their presence validates the importance of this milestone for each and every graduate.”
In his keynote address to the graduates, U.S. Congressman John Shimkus (R - Collinsville, Ill.) commented on the overwhelming level of support that showed for this graduating class.
“It is great to see so many of your friends and your family,” Shimkus said. “So many, in fact, some can’t get in the door.”
On the stage to greet and congratulate each graduate were RLC Board of Trustees Chairman David Edmison, Vice Chairman Bryan Drew, Secretary Ed Cunningham and members Marvin Scott, Dr. Donald Mitchell, Rick Marlow and Bill Simpson. Also on stage were President Holstein, Student Trustee Samantha York, Vice President of Academic Instruction Chris Kuberski, Academic Council President Shari Carpenter and Congressman Shimkus.
“Illinois is blessed with a very strong and vibrant community college system,” Shimkus said. “You all are a part of that. ...There are many people to thank tonight ... many who continued to believe in you ... in times when, like all of us, we start losing faith in ourselves. ... But, as President Holstein said, this is a celebration of your success, your commitment, your victory.”
“I’d venture to guess many of you would not be where you are tonight without the continued support of your family and friends,” Holstein said, addressing the crowd Friday night. “Please make sure you thank them for their support. But, at the end of the day, it was your hard work and perseverance that brought you here this evening. Many of you have overcome struggles such as working full-time jobs, caring for families, and many other obstacles that were put in your way. No matter your path or hardships endured, each of you should be proud of yourselves, sitting here this evening, having realized your goals, improved yourselves, better prepared for the future. Again, we are extremely proud of each of you and best wishes for continued success.”
Shimkus talked about the diversity at community colleges in Illinois and the meaning of commencement.
“I want you to remember ... as you go out tonight and on to your new stage in life ... to love your neighbor. The Bible says if you gain the whole world but lose your soul, if you do not love you gain nothing. ... We, as a society, are well-served when we, as a society, love our neighbor.”
“It was such a pleasure to have Congressman Shimkus as our guest speaker,” Holstein said. “We were so proud to have an individual our graduates could look up to, not only as an influential leader who has done so much for Rend Lake College, our state and nation; but as a former educator as well. I thank him for taking the time out of his busy schedule to serve as our guest speaker.”
Shimkus taught four years of high school, was an Army officer for five years, spent six years as a county treasurer and has served his country as a member of Congress for the past 13 years.
He also asked the graduates to remember to continue a lifetime of learning and be prepared to accept some risk.
“Risk is challenging. But, when you do what you have done, re-entered the educational arena, it provides you more self-confidence and that educational background to step out on faith in your ability to move forward. Rend Lake College has prepared you. Your family has supported you. Now is the time for you to begin the next step. The next commencement of your life.”