Blackhawk Technical College graduates pack commencement
BELOIT If you got to see a friend or a relative graduate from Blackhawk Technical College on Saturday, you truly were a VIP.
Anticipating a record turnout for graduates attending the 2011 commencement at the Dream Center in Beloit, Blackhawk Technical College limited each graduate to two tickets for family and friends, according to an admissions official at the college.
Remaining tickets were put into a lottery. That’s right: a lottery to attend a college commencement.
Enrollments at the technical college have been booming the last two years as displaced local workers have poured in for retraining and the opportunity to earn college degrees, hoping to get an edge in a difficult job market.
Overall, Blackhawk Technical College has seen a 57 percent increase in enrollment over the last two years, said Len Walker, director of advancement at the college.
That’s meant big graduation turnouts, as on Saturday. There were 462 students graduating this spring from Blackhawk Technical College. About 325 of them—plus their families—attended the commencement.
“The bubble keeps growing. It has not burst yet,” Walker said.
At the Dream Center, the registration line for graduates snaked through the building and out the front door, onto a sidewalk where people waited in the blustery weather, their graduation gowns billowing in the wind.
Graduation coordinators, trying to save time before the ceremony, were handing out registration cards to people even as they lined up on the sidewalk.
In the throngs was graduate Mike Vaughn, 43, of Milton, a former union representative at Lear Corp. who was laid off in April 2009.
Vaughn, who earned a degree in human resources management at Blackhawk, said he hopes to find work in HR while continuing to study at a four-year college.
“I did that work for years. I loved it, dealing with people, helping them,” Vaughn said.
He was wearing a yellow sash and tassels to show his membership to Phi Theta Kappa, a national honor society.
“I got all decked out,” Vaughn said, smiling. “At 43, I’m proud of my accomplishments.”
Graduate Mike Hathorn, 41, another former Lear employee, was receiving his degree in mechanical design technology. He landed as a designer at Prop Shaft Supply Co., a company in Elkhorn that produces drive shafts.
Hathorn said he’s nervous, excited, but not at all worried about a 45-minute commute.
“I’m just thrilled to have a job in today’s market,” he said.
Not everyone graduating Saturday was a displaced worker looking for a new start. Some were hoping to break into their first career.
Graduate Brittany Terrell, 19, of Janesville, was receiving her medical assistant degree. She said she just finished a healthcare externship and UW Health is interviewing her next week for multiple jobs. She wouldn’t give further details.
“Healthcare positions are in high demand, and I’d like to keep my competition down,” she said.
Mortarboards and handcuffs
From standing room only at the entrance ramp of the Dream Center’s 1,200-seat auditorium, enrollment services coordinator Linda Brown smiled, watching graduates march across the stage below to earn their honors.
A seemingly endless parade of criminal justice-law enforcement graduates paraded past with shiny plastic handcuffs glued to their mortarboards.
Hoots and cheers came down from the rafters of the packed auditorium, as fresh-faced youths and gray tinged mid-lifers alike waited in robes on the threshold of their future.
Brown just grinned.
“There’s only about 45 minutes more of this,” she said.