Friday night’s graduation from Southeast Arkansas College represented more than just an education milestone for 29-year-old Nicky Sanders of Pine Bluff. The experience was truly a personal and family achievement.
Challenged by cerebral palsy since birth, the wheelchair-bound Little Rock native rolled across the Pine Bluff Convention Center stage to receive an associate of applied science degree in computer network technology, doing what she’s done the past three years — energizing her classmates, teachers and SEARK administrators with her plucky can-do attitude.
“I won’t let it stop me,” she said of her disease. “The toughest thing I’ve had to deal with in getting this degree is different personalities, some people who think I can’t compete. But I wanted to show them and my kids that anything is possible.”
Sanders has done that, and now she intends to do more.
“I’m looking at going to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to get my four-year degree and then I’ll be getting a job,” said Sanders, who has two sons, ages 3 and 1. “I’m interested in a career in anything to do with computer networking.”
“I am so proud of her,” said Scott Adams, one of Sanders’ lead instructors. “She is so determined, so inspired. Nothing gets her down. Her outlook was, whatever it takes, she’s going to get this degree.
“She comes to class early and stays late,” he continued. “Her determination is inspirational to my other students.”
Adams admitted that when a few of his other pupils have complained about difficulties they may be encountering with classwork or their personal lives, he’s referenced Sanders’ circumstances without her knowledge.
“I would point her out and say, ‘Hey, she’s getting it done, so you can, too,’” he said.
Adams said he has witnessed Sanders’ will steadily strengthen, noting that she initially had some doubts as to her ability to sustain.
“There was one time at first when she was crying and said some people had told her that she wouldn’t succeed because she was handicapped,” he recalled. “I told her that wasn’t true, that she could do anything she wanted.”
There were 307 other candidates for graduation in the fall commencement.
Pine Bluff residents Rita Lewis and Erin Mothershed received associate of applied science degrees in criminal justice technology.
Lewis, who currently works in probation and parole services, is a 47-year-old mother of two, including a 20-year-old University of Arkansas at Fayetteville student. Planning to further her education at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Lewis said she values her SEARK experience, which she described as “well worth the effort.”
The 40-year-old Mothershed is a Pine Bluff Police Department crime scene technician. She’s also looking at continuing her education at UAPB. The mother of a teenager, she termed her time at SEARK as “a blessing.”
Derese Haile of Pine Bluff and Rosalyn Williams of Dumas received technical certificates in practical nursing.
Williams, 32, has already earned a business administration degree from the University of Arkansas at Monticello. She’s employed by the Arkansas Department of Correction at its Varner Unit. She’ll be returning to SEARK to pursue certification as a registered nurse.
“This is a happy night for me,” she laughed. “I can get some rest for a little while before I get back to classes.”
The 30-year-old Haile is originally from Ethiopia but now resides here. He has similar study plans as Williams, but wants a career with the federal Veterans Administration Hospital.
“The VA is a great place to work, the best place in Arkansas,” he said.
Pine Bluff Arsenal Commander Col. David Musgrave delivered the commencement address.
“Learning is hard,” he said in praising the graduates. “It demands sacrifice.”
Musgrave stressed, however, that education’s rewards are continuous through life.
He urged the graduates to seek jobs in which they can make positive differences for others as well as themselves.