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MOLINE -- Interim Black Hawk College President Dr. John Erwin challenged graduates to "remember Bill's story" Thursday night.

The Black Hawk College Quad-Cities Campus commencement was held at the TaxSlayer Center. 

Dr. Erwin told the story of special guest, author Bill Albracht, who was an Army captain in the Vietnam War and recipient of three Silver Stars, three Purple Hearts and five Bronze Stars. Mr. Albracht became a member of the Secret Service and spent 25 years protecting six presidents and their families, Mr. Erwin said.

Mr. Albracht is also a Black Hawk graduate.

"I'm telling his story to challenge all of you graduates," Dr. Erwin said. "You are going to receive a college credential; what are you going to do next?"

He asked if the students would join the military, take on a job, take time off, pursue a higher degree or devote their life to a family. 

He then made the challenge to remember Bill's story. 

"He's an ordinary person, and he applied himself to military service, his education and the pursuit of government service," Dr. Erwin said. "He took his ordinary life and he did extraordinary things with what he has been given."

Graduates each have their own, unique experiences to share. Here are just a few stories of students who earned degrees Thursday night:

  • One student graduating from college is special, but for one family it truly was a family affair as Jenny Hart of Rock Island and her three daughters, Brooke, Brianna and Hannah, earned certificates and degrees. 

Jenny Hart, a 1990 graduate of Moline High School, said "a change was needed" after she worked 15 years for Medical Arts Associates. She went back to school to earn a certificate in Medical Assisting, and intends to continue with the practice, but in a new role. 

"It wasn't like really planned, it just happened," Mrs. Hart said. "I wanted to show the girls that no matter what, where you are at, you can always change if you are not happy."  

Hannah Hart, a 2014 graduate of Rock Island High School, had the unique experience of earning the same certificate while participating in the same classes with her mother. Hannah also earned an associate of arts degree at the end of last semester. She said she might go on to get a degree as a licensed practical nurse.

Twin sisters Brooke and Brianna Hart said they were signed up for the same classes every semester except the last one. They said they drove one car to school, and worked in the gym at the college together.

Brianna said it was "really weird" going into class alone after all of that time. 

"I felt people didn't know me as a twin; I had to tell people I was a twin," she said. 

The 2016 graduates of Rock Island High School earned associate of arts degrees. 

Brooke said she plans to study nursing at St. Ambrose University, Davenport, while Brianna said she will attend Trinity College of Nursing and Health Sciences to study respiratory therapy. 

  • Stephen Cougill, a 54-year-old Navy veteran who served in Desert Shield/Desert Storm, said he has been to the bottom with struggles since his time in the military. 
He said he has been homeless, struggled with substance abuse and also has post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He earned an associate's degree in applied science, specializing in general occupational and technical studies, and a medical assisting certificate.  
"I decided to turn my life around, use my VA benefits and go back to school to get my associate's (degree)," Mr. Cougill said. 
Currently Mr. Cougill is participating in a work-study program at the VA Community Resources & Referral Center in Davenport. He said he hopes to become a full-time employee for the clinic when a position opens.
"I finally got the help that I needed and I hope the veterans can look at me as an inspiration to be able to say 'you know what, hey, if Stephen can do it I can do it too," Mr. Cougill said. 
  • Megan Griffin, of Milan, was diagnosed with hearing loss at the age of 2. She has to wear a hearing aid in each ear to hear, but has not let her disability hold her back. 
She said she had to always sit in the front row in order to hear the teachers, and classmates would help her with notes to ensure she didn’t miss anything. 
“I’m ready for the next challenge,” Ms. Griffin said. “I’m ready to be assertive, and I don’t want to be sorry about my hearing loss. Black Hawk has taught me not to be scared.”
Ms. Griffin, who earned an associate of science degree, said she plans to go to Methodist College in Peoria to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing. She said she might even go further and become a nurse practitioner. 


Gerold is a reporter for

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