MALTA – Paul Belcher is putting delivering pizzas behind him and creating a life that he hopes will make his teenage daughter proud.
Belcher, 43, of DeKalb, earned his associate degree in applied science in automated engineering technology Saturday from Kishwaukee College after deciding to make a change in his life just more than two years ago. Belcher was working in Florida in architecture as a drafter until the recession wiped out the Florida real estate market, Belcher said. He returned to Illinois and enrolled at Kishwaukee.
Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon was the commencement speaker at the graduation ceremony, and she highlighted Belcher's story as well as one other student after speaking with them about their accomplishments via Skype earlier this week.
Simon toured Illinois’ 48 community colleges early in her term as lieutenant governor to show how they play into the state’s college completion rate. Kishwaukee College President Thomas Choice said Simon wants 60 percent of adults to hold college degrees or certificates by 2025, which would be up 41 percent from today.
“You’re a part of the majority of the college students in Illinois,” Simon said, addressing the graduates. “You’re also reflective of who the state is. Because of geographic and financial accessibility, community colleges are who we are as a state and that’s something to be proud of.”
Belcher said he has had many opportunities during his time at Kishwaukee and looks forward to what’s ahead.
“It’s something I’ve worked really hard for and sacrificed a lot for,” Belcher said. “I moved away from my daughter to go to school to make a better life for my daughter and make a better life for myself.”
Belcher has his “fingers crossed” that he will find a job shortly after graduation. If not, he says he'll look into earning a bachelor’s degree at Northern Illinois University.
Student speaker Micayla Skonie, who received her associate in arts degree Saturday, spoke to the graduates about opportunities and celebration.
“We all have an experience that has provided us with a set of tools that will last a lifetime,” Skonie said. “That is something to celebrate.”
Choice said Kishwaukee offers the chance to help people change their lives and fulfill their dreams. Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Johnson told the graduates they have done something that many people aspire to do, and graduation is just the beginning.
“Take pride not just in your graduation, but your graduation from Kishwaukee College,” Simon said. “This college is a great deal like you: A lot of hard work, not as many resources as you’d like to have going into it, and maybe not everyone saw the potential. But your faculty, staff and administration saw the potential in you.”