WINCHESTER — Umpqua Community College awarded more than 400 degrees and certificates this year during a graduation ceremony Friday night at the Swanson Amphitheatre. Every chair in front of the stage was filled and many others sat in the grassy areas to the sides, as the Eugene Highlanders Bagpipers opened the ceremony. The Umpqua Singers, under the direction of Jason Heald, performed the national anthem.
For one man, getting a degree was not something he ever thought would happen after dropping out of Oregon State University almost 60 years ago.
Ron Stribling, 81, of Sutherlin was awarded an Associate of Applied Science in welding, after being a millwright since 1973. He was laid off from the job and wasn’t going to work again, until a letter showed up from the state.
“It said I qualified for assistance for re-training, so I thought I’d do it,” Stribling said Friday. “Now that I have the degree, I’ve been thinking about going out and finding a job.”
He enjoyed the experience so much he’s thinking of taking more classes.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, and the professors were kind of amazed that I was 81, they couldn’t believe it,” he said.
Several students were getting their second diploma this month, after graduating from high school last week and now getting their degrees at UCC.
Emma Burke of Elkton commuted sometimes four days a week from her high school to the college, starting the spring of her sophomore year, she built up 90 college credits, and she is headed to Oregon State University to seek a pharmacy degree where she will be a junior.
“I would take four or five college classes on top of my five class high school schedule,” she said. “I just continued to take them until I reached my 90 credit limit.”
Burke was still able to hold down a 3.95 GPA in high school and her only “B” was in a freshman P.E. class. Her college GPA was 3.84 at UCC. In her spare time, she works full-time as a barista at the Elkton Station coffee shop.
Sarah Blum was home-schooled her entire life, and she says it prepared her well for the college classes. She started in 2015 and took a couple of classes a term and started building up to a full-time schedule at UCC. She finished her 90 credits during winter term this school year.
“My mom has been my teacher and has taught me the love of learning and how it’s so important to keep learning whether or not you’re in school,” Blum said.
She had a 4.0 high school GPA and 3.96 at UCC with one “B” in her two years. She is studying in London this summer with the Honor’s College and then going to OSU in the fall. She wants to become an elementary school teacher.
Madison Coffey, a Roseburg High graduate, said she came from a strong STEM educational background in Florida so it prepared her for the college classes and she took full advantage of it getting her first two years of college out of the way.
“It was pretty easy to work with the high school to say, I need to take these classes in the morning so I could schedule my classes out here,” Coffey said. “Course-wise it was a little hard to balance, but I love school.”
She is going to transfer to OSU to major in mechanical engineering.
UCC alumna Rosa Mohlsick gave the commencement address. She is a 2009 graduate of the college, attending after losing her job and becoming homeless. She talked to the students about making their mark.
She told the graduates, “I challenge you to create a meaningful, purposeful, fulfilling life for yourself and others.”
UCC President Debra Thatcher told the graduates and said she was proud to be the president of a college with such fine students.
“I am confident that this commencement is a new beginning of a grand adventure for all of you because of how you have redefined yourself while at Umpqua Community College,” Thatcher said.
The school awarded 148 Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer degrees, 136 Associate of Applied Science, 25 Associate of Science, and 15 Associate of General Studies degrees.
There were also 70 Certificates of Completion which are awarded for occupational content that must have a defined job entry point.