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Power of perseverance: SW Florida College grads celebrate

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I think I can.

If optimism worked for The Little Engine that Could, surely it will work for 426 men and women who graduated Saturday from Southwest Florida College. They are leaving school in the worst economic period since the Great Depression, yet their future success boils down to having a positive attitude.

"Henry Ford once said, 'If you think you can, or you think you can't, you're probably right,' " said Lee County School Board chairwoman Jane Kuckel, who delivered the commencement address at Harborside Event Center.

Southwest Florida College is a career-oriented institution, the region's most diverse college. It has black students, white, Hispanic and Asian. It has teenage students and those who are grandparents. It has those who take the bus to class and those who drive new cars. It has well-to-do students and those who are one paycheck away from homelessness.

Education is the great equalizer.

"We are a colorful group from all different walks of life, different ages and ethnic backgrounds, but we all reached the finish line together," said Laura Allard, 39, of Bonita Springs, who earned an associate's degree in marketing and management.

No one ever told JoAnna Stewart that college would be easy; it was her struggle outside of class that made graduation seem like an impossible goal. She underwent chemotherapy and radiation for sickle cell anemia, sometimes so sick she could barely drag herself to class. But Stewart did, never missing a step. It got easier as June 20, 2009, approached.

"I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and when I saw the light, I kept pressing," said Stewart, 49, a Lehigh Acres resident who earned a bachelor's degree in management.

The highlight of Saturday's ceremony was President Gregory Jones conferring 36 bachelor's and 295 associate's degrees, along with 85 diplomas and 12 certificates for students completing non-degree programs.

"I have been looking forward to this day all of my life," said 23-year-old Rosanna Sauceda, a Fort Myers resident who earned an associate's degree in graphic design. "I know my family is so proud of me. It got hard toward the end, but looking forward to this day has been my goal."

For those students who have yet to firm up post-graduation plans, the future is uncertain. Matthew Curry, 28, of Port Charlotte isn't sure where he will work, or even if he'll stay in Florida. Early signs, however, are pointing North.

To find out more about Southwest Florida College visit www.swfc.edu or to learn more about the Institute of Interior Design visit www.instituteofinteriordesign.com.

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