DIXON – In their gray caps and gowns, the Sauk Valley Community College class of 2014 walked into the gym Friday night to celebrate graduation.
They were culminating a "rite of passage," Andrew Bollman, the chairman of the community college's board, told them. And they were surrounded by their family, friends and the faculty that helped them get there.
Oregon Police Chief Darin DeHaan, a graduate of the community college, was the commencement speaker for the school's 48th annual commencement.
He told the graduates to "never stop moving forward" and to learn from their mistakes and, especially, the mistakes of others.
Among the graduates was Lynnette Herr, 28, of Freeport, who had been working as a forklift operator at a printing factory in Mount Morris in 2011 when her father, who was working at the same factory, told her she needed to prepare for the future.
"My dad had told me to not expect to be able to retire from the factory," she said prior to Friday night's graduation, in which she also was the student speaker. "[The factory] had gone through another name change and benefits loss.”
Herr, a third generation employee of the factory, took her father's advice and enrolled at Sauk while still planning to work full time. By Christmas of her first year at Sauk, she found out her and her father and rest of her co-workers were losing their jobs
"It was terrifying," she told the graduation crowd Friday night. "And I was tempted to refund my tuition. But obviously I did not."
After her first week of classes at Sauk, she broke her leg. Her father and boyfriend took turns driving her to class, she said, and the school and faculty did all they could to help her on campus.
Herr graduated with an associate's degree in applied science. She wants to be a radiologist and work with X-rays at hospitals.
It was just a weird coincidence, she said, that her first week at Sauk, which would prepare her for work as radiologist, included an X-ray of her own. But it solidifed her decision to take that career path.
"I know there are other students here today who have overcome greater struggles than I have and have done so with less than what I have," she said. "You should be proud of yourselves for being here today and for what you've accomplished."
DeHaan said his education from Sauk allowed him to "think outside the box" as a young police officer in the Oregon Police Department in 1996.
By 2006, he had been named the police chief and later worked to earn a master's degree in public policy and administration from Northwestern University.
He told the graduates that Friday night was only the start.
"Does your diploma open every door for you? Does everything become a breeze from here on in? No," DeHaan said. "But I contend that the document, first and foremost, ... has to open your mind and your thought processes.
"The classes that you've attended, your professors, your fellow students, they've given something to you that's very powerful. They've given you knowledge."