When Gladys Sanchez's name was called at Kishwaukee College's graduation ceremony Saturday, she received one of the biggest cheers of any student.
Sanchez received her associate of arts degree at the 2 p.m. commencement, which honored students graduating with transfer degrees and general educational development diplomas.
A ceremony honoring students receiving associate in applied science degrees and certificates took place at 10:30 a.m.
The graduation was a big deal for Sanchez, because she is a single mother, she said. Sanchez pursued a two-year order of protection against her son's father because he was mentally and emotionally abusive, she said.
“I've basically done everything on my own,” Sanchez said. “It's been a journey.”
Sanchez will attend Northern Illinois University this fall and major in special education with a minor in art.
There were 475 students graduating from the spring 2013 semester, but students who graduated as far back as the summer 2012 semester were invited to participate in the ceremony, said Laura Chiavini, marketing and public relations specialist for Kishwaukee College.
At the afternoon ceremony, Terry and Sherrie Martin were presented with the John C. Roberts Community Service Award for their efforts across DeKalb County. Terry taught at Kishwaukee College for more than 30 years as a biology instructor. Terry still writes anatomy and physiology lab manuals today that are used nationally.
Sanchez was elected as a member of the Board of Trustees by the student body. She also was the college's president for Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, served on an advisory council for the Illinois Community College Board and was the vice president for the Intercultural Student Association.
Sanchez said she received a lot of support at Kishwaukee College. Since she doesn't have a car, friends gave her rides to the conferences and meetings she needed to attend.
“I have a relationship with everyone at this school,” she said. “I care about them ... every student, every staff member.”
Sanchez wasn't the only student who had to deal with hardship. Brian Davies graduated with an associate in science degree with almost no help from others.
Davies doesn't have parents, he said, so he had to put himself through college. He had anywhere from one to three full-time jobs at a time to pay for school, he said.
“There were times where I slept three hours a night to make sure I got to college,” Davies said.
Davies plans on attending NIU, where he has one year left, and major in communications. He is considering working somewhere in the public relations industry.
Sanchez realizes there are students who graduated with worse problems than she had to endure. That's what made her so happy at the ceremony.
When she received her degree, she was one of the only students to also receive a hug from Tom Choice, Kishwaukee College president.
Choice called Saturday the “best day of the year.”
When he talked to the graduates, Choice urged them to be innovative and act fast to create something new. He included a few jokes, too.
“Usually when someone's wearing a robe at two in the afternoon on a Saturday, it means they've given up,” he said.