Union Grove, Wisconsin - June 11, 2011 - Shepherds College, a ground-breaking post-secondary educational program for young adults with intellectual disabilities, celebrated the success of its first five students with an inaugural commencement ceremony held on the campus of Shepherds Ministries on Saturday, June 11th at 1:00 pm.
The five students - Scott Le Rette from Racine, WI, Nikki Martin from Gaithersburg, MD, Brian Meyers from Roach, MO, Gloria Pavuk from Waretown, NJ and Jessica Gobeli from Winslow, IL - graduated from the program with a certificate of completion in one of two majors offered by the college - Horticulture or Culinary Arts.
Along with their main area of study, each student, during the course of the program, completed classes in four categories of learning: functional academic skills, spiritual life, daily living skills and social/emotional skills. Each interned at a local business that specialized in their selected area of study during the final year of the program.
"It truly was a momentous day," stated Angela Houk, Dean of Shepherds College. "Three years of hard work was celebrated on this day as five individuals with intellectual disabilities walked across the stage to receive their certificates of completion. Much diligence, perseverance, sweat and tears went into their three-year journey."
Graduate Brian Meyers, a Horticulture major now employed by Turtle Creek Gardens of Delavan, WI, was asked to share his personal reflections during the commencement. "I moved away from home because I wanted to become independent. At Shepherds College, I learned how to write a menu, go grocery shopping, budget my time and money, and cook healthy food. I learned how to design gardens, make floral arrangements, and grow vegetables." He paused to look into the tear-filled eyes of his parents. "I have grown as a leader."
Dr. Gary Meers, a professor at the University of Nebraska in the area of Special Education, presented the commencement address to over 200 guests, including family and friends of the graduates, faculty, underclassmen and local government officials. In his address, Dr. Meers urged the students not to lose sight of the fact that they have something to contribute to society - they have purpose. "Graduation is as much a beginning as an ending," he said. "You are now an example to those that follow."
Each graduate, dressed in gray cap and gown, then crossed the stage for their certificate - some with long, quick strides and big grins and others with measured steps and the seriousness of the situation in their expression. They finally faced the audience as alumni of the Class of 2011, turned their tassels and looked on with amazement as they received thunderous applause and two standing ovations from the people who had supported them throughout their journey toward independence.
"This class had to exercise a level of faith in an unproven and experimental program that will never be required to the same degree by any incoming class again," said Brian Canright, Residential Life Manager for Shepherds College. "They spearheaded and pioneered what could culminate in a movement in special education. No other class will ever have the same opportunity to display this much courage and commitment. This ceremony was their dream realized."