ROCKFORD REGISTER STAR
ROCKFORD — Alex Ariri finished second in his high school class in Kenya. But at Rock Valley College, he found what he could not in his native country: A shot at a higher education.
Nearly 2,000 people braved a cold, steady rain to gather at Rock Valley College for its 40th annual graduation ceremony.
Of the 837 students graduating from Rock Valley this spring, Ariri was one of the 300 students who strode down the aisle to retrieve associate’s degrees Thursday.
Many of them worked for the chance to transfer to a four-year university. Others wanted a promotion at work, or sought training for a new career.
Ariri, 27, came to Rock Valley seeking a better future.
In Kenya, he said even a good student often stands little chance of landing a spot in college.
"The competition is very high," Ariri said. "You might not get to do what you want because someone else was there before you. You might end up waiting for a long time."
After graduating high school in 1996, he spent years working in computer repair before following in a sister’s footsteps to the Rockford area.
Since arriving in the United States in 2002, Ariri has become a certified nursing assistant and a licensed practical nurse. On Thursday, he graduated with an associate’s degree in applied science that has prepared him to become a registered nurse.
Author and faculty of the year award winner Penelope Blake told students that after leaving Rock Valley armed with their associate’s degrees and various certifications, they have “a responsibility to leave the world better than you found it.”
Brenda Reddic, 49, works for the Rockford Rescue Mission and plans to follow that advice. On Thursday, she earned an associate’s degree in human services and certification to help people who have substance-abuse problems.
"I have a desire to help people who are addicted to drugs," Reddic said. "There are a lot of people struggling with addiction."
Jessica Boggie, 20, adorned with a Phi Theta Kappa honors society sash, medal, and white honors student cord over her blue graduation robe, said she plans to work for a year before transferring to a university.
A theater student, Boggie said she plans to work community shows before going back to school in a year.
"I want to pump up my resume and get some more money," Boggie said.
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