(HELENA) Saturday was graduation day for students at Helena College.
243 graduates were recognized for completing an associate degree or certificate program, during the annual commencement ceremony at the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds.
Joseph Wohlers, who received an Associate of Arts degree with an emphasis in social work, was chosen by his fellow graduates to speak for the class. He talked about some of the challenges he faced in his life – including struggling with addiction and being seriously injured in a shooting as a teenager.
“I heard several stories from people who had similar troubled backgrounds and how they overcame adversity through higher education,” he said.
Wohlers enrolled at Helena College. Now, he will transfer to Carroll College to study pre-medicine.
“I believe that we endure negative experiences in order to overcome them, so that we can help others prevail from theirs,” he said. “Education is making that possible for me.”
The commencement speaker was Dalton Johnson, a 2018 Helena College graduate. He now attends the University of Montana and represents Montana University System students on the Montana Board of Regents.
Johnson echoed the value that Helena College has for students from differing backgrounds or facing unique challenges. He dropped out of the college immediately after high school, then returned and spent several years working to complete his degree.
“If you take only one thing away from today, take these words of advice: We are more than our failures, our mistakes do not define us, but they are our path,” he said. “Your choice to start your education at Helena College is one of the best decisions of your life.”
29 other students received their high school diplomas during Saturday’s ceremony. They completed the Access to Success program, a partnership between Helena College and the Helena School District that seeks to reengage people who have dropped out of high school. It allows students to enroll in dual-credit classes, so they can simultaneously earn their diploma and work toward a professional certificate or degree.