United States Air Force Colonel (Select) Robert J. Mahoney, a Southern Illinois native who was in the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, let a record number of Rend Lake College graduates and their guests know "people can make a difference."
Those who attended 36th annual Commencement exercises May 16 in Waugh Gymnasium on the Ina campus learned of the keynote speaker’s "gravity theory" . . . how every person influences others around him or her, much like the planets. "We do have a choice in how we affect one another . . . Each and every day, we should strive to pull those people up around us, not drag them down. A simple act of kindness can make a difference for a lifetime."
Mahoney said he will never forget the man who picked up a 17-year-old Air Force Academy student who had just missed his ride and drove him 25 miles to the airport. The young soldier was headed home on his first spring break.
The passenger was curious why the driver did not pull into the airport parking lot. "I assumed he was heading out, also," Mahoney recalled. "He wasn’t. In fact, he had just come back from the airport. He told me he just thought it was the right thing to do, and the way I could pay him back was to help out someone like that when I had the chance.
"Talk about making a difference. I’m still paying off that debt every day."
A cousin of RLC Foundation Chief Executive Officer Pat Mitchell, Mahoney talked about the "awesome role models' he has been surrounded by in the service and that 'surreal' day nearly two years ago. He watched in disbelief as the second World Trade Center tower was struck and then went into emergency mode with the rest of the Pentagon; he was carrying a report to the National Military Command Center operations desk when the Pentagon itself was struck.
"I believe those people have not died in vain," Mahoney continued. "We should all be proud of how we Americans have picked ourselves up and strived to make this world a better place."
Graduation should not be an end, he insisted. "Tonight is called ‘Commencement,’ which literally means a beginning. I challenge each and every one of you to use this fine education you have received at Rend Lake College to make a difference of your own."
There were a record 877 degrees and certificates awarded during Rend Lake College’s 36th annual Commencement May 16. That total was eight times greater than was presented to the Class of 1968, the college’s first.
The combined total of 532 degree recipients and 345 occupational certificate honorees includes: an all-time high Associate in Arts baccalaureate-transfer degrees, 212; a record number of Associate in Science baccalaureate-transfer degrees, 117; one Associate in Fine Arts Degree; a record number of Associate in Applied Science career-technical degrees, 202, and the record number of certificates.
The previous all-time Rend Lake College high was 641 award recipients a year ago.
Unofficially, a total of 14,484 graduates have now taken advantage of the comprehensive community college - where learning never ends - to earn degrees and/or certificates since it first opened its doors in Fall 1967.
Candidates for graduation were presented by Jim Hull, RLC Associate Dean of Instruction. Degrees and certificates were conferred by Marvin Scott, chairman of the Board of Trustees, assisted by Instructor Kevin Weston, president of the Academic Council.
Rend Lake College President Mark S. Kern welcomed graduates and guests.
Music was provided by the Rend Lake College Band, under the direction of Julie Wilkerson, Associate Professor of Music.
A reception for all graduates and their guests followed in the Student Center.