CRYSTAL LAKE – Lauren and Juanita Whiting smiled and embraced, then posed in the hallway near the gymnasium at McHenry County College.
“I’m so happy for you,” Juanita Whiting said, giving a squeeze to her granddaughter, who beamed under her mortarboard as another member of her entourage snapped a picture.
It was not long after 11 a.m. Saturday, and Lauren Whiting, 21, of Woodstock had just received her associate degree in science as part of the MCC Class of 2014. She was one of about 709 graduation candidates who applied for more than 779 degrees and certificates this spring, MCC officials said.
A little more than an hour earlier, Whiting was among hundreds of Class of 2014 members who gathered in the hallway before entering the MCC gym. Inside, parents, grandparents, siblings and friends crowded seats and bleachers.
Sitting a few rows back on those bleachers were Daniel and Charity Daum and their daughter, Ashley, of Wonder Lake. Ashley’s older brother, Nicholas, was set to receive his associate in arts degree, while Ashley will attend MCC in the fall.
“I’m excited for Nick. This is just the first step,” said his dad. “He’s going to Western Illinois University to go into the sports broadcasting program.”
“There’s Nick right there,” he said moments later, as his son walked through the door in his cap and gown. “Nick!”
Graduate after graduate walked through the doorway – some in their early 20s, others closer to middle age – all with their tassels to the right as they smiled and looked up to search the room for familiar faces. Soon MCC President Vicky Smith welcomed the crowd.
“Graduates, my enthusiastic congratulations to each of you on this momentous occasion,” she said. “I could not imagine a more appropriate way to reinforce MCC’s mission of student success than to see each of you here today.”
Judge Mary Nader, a member of the MCC Class of 1983, reminded all of the graduates that they have laid a solid foundation on which to build their futures.
“Without MCC as my pillar or rock, I would not be where I am today,” she said after recounting her educational journey, in part achieved through night classes at Loyola University while she was a young mother living in Crystal Lake, doing her homework on the train.
“You can be anything you want to be,” she said. “You are well-armed with your MCC degree, but just remember, you gotta wanna.”
Joe Rice, Class of 2014 member and recipient of the outstanding student and conflict resolution awards, was this year’s student speaker.
“Today’s such a perfect day; I’m glad I spent it with you,” he sang as he stepped up to the mic. “You just keep me hanging on. Hashtag ‘perfect day.’ Hashtag ‘Lou Reed.’ Hashtag ‘graduation.’ Hashtag ‘congratulations.’
“I wanted to keep up with the times,” he continued. “I’m not going to take a selfie. Although I really want to, I’m not going to do it.”
Rice’s address was humor-packed, and he definitely awakened the crowd after shrieking into the microphone to emphasize a point about spontaneity. But some seriousness surfaced as he spoke of fear of the unknown, urging his classmates to be kind, understanding and adventurous as they move on.
“Use your education to bring up and bring out your life,” he said. “Your education has prepared you to overcome the obstacles … stop waiting around.”
Nicole Harris, 20, said after graduation that she can’t wait for her next step – sociology and psychology classes at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. But she always will remember MCC, and noted that she is grateful to have two years of college under her belt debt-free.
“You can tell the [MCC professors] really care and they love their jobs,” Harris said. “It’s just nice to be moving forward.”