Northwestern College Student Commencement Speaker: Debra McKelvin!
[Bridgeview/Chicago-Jefferson Park/Naperville/Rosemont, IL] Northwestern College conferred certificates and associate degrees to 303 students at the College’s 108th Commencement Ceremony held at the Arie Crown Theater at McCormick Place in Chicago. But two particular graduates stood out among the crowd of students at this year’s ceremony: Debra McKelvin of Chicago’s Jefferson Park Neighborhood and Raj Patel of Chicago’s Lakeview Neighborhood (formerly of Carol Stream). The two served as this year’s 2012 student speakers.
Focusing on Debra McKelvin, first, she was not the traditional college student. She was a single mother of three adult children and a grandmother of eight. Up until the downturn in the economy, she was a working woman, until like many people over the last few years she lost her job. But she used a negative (the job loss) as a reason to start focusing on her, especially since her children were all grown and out of the house. However, she went through all the same doubts that many adult-learners have – Can I do this? (I’ve been out of school for decades); Will I fit in? (the majority students will be my children’s age); What will the instructors think of me? (some of them may be my children’s age!); Is it too late to get a degree?. But according to McKelvin’s commencement speech, “It’s Never Too Late!” She graduated this summer with a 4.0 grade point average, a new career, a job on the horizon, and plans to continue her education this fall!
Debra McKelvin grew up in Chicago’s Austin Neighborhood and graduated from Austin High School (now Austin Academy). Her mother was a teacher and her father wasn’t around, so she took on the added responsibilities of being the oldest of four siblings in a single-parent home. During high school she had her first child and at age 17 started work at American National Bank. She graduated from high school, but as a single mom she needed to work in order to provide for her family. She remained at American National Bank for over four years, and then spent several years with Circle Family Care, a community center in the Austin Neighborhood where she realized her love for working with children and juveniles.
On her own, McKelvin raised her three sons Joseph, Joshua and Jason, instilling in them the importance of education. All three graduated from high school and went on to have wives and children of their own, with all being good fathers and husbands, a point she made while beaming with pride. Two went on to college - with one now working on his Masters - and her youngest son went into the Navy, with all three providing for their families while at the same time following their own dreams of successful careers.
So with the loss of her job in 2009, McKelvin thought about getting her own degree – after all, her extended family members were starting to go back to school for degrees, not just her own children. So she walked into Northwestern College’s Chicago Campus after seeing a commercial about an Open House. She asked questions, talked to a number of staff members, and then registered! She picked a major – Criminal Justice, with an emphasis on youth advocacy, and although she still maintained doubts about whether or not she could do this, she went to class, completed her assignments and studied hard for her quizzes, mid-terms and final exams. With her first year under her belt, she was doing it! She was succeeding in college! She had a work-study job at the College to help with finances, and had her co-workers there became like family to her.
However, life can sometimes get in the way and put up hurdles. Early into McKelvin’s second year, a tragedy hit her family, causing her to fall behind in class and have trouble focusing on her schoolwork. With the compassion and prayers of the Northwestern College faculty, staff and her classmates, she was able to move forward. How ironic it was for her to realize that the very people she thought would not accept her if she pursued a college education were the ones who stood by her during a very dark time in her life!
McKelvin completed her Associate Degree in Criminal Justice, and was honored by being selected one of two students to speak at commencement. “It’s never too late!” McKelvin emphasized over and over in her remarks. “Life happens, and things come up in your life, and you put off college. But it’s never too late for school, and for reaching your goals!” She urged her classmates to conquer their fears and surround themselves with people that dream big – and to never let anyone tell them that they couldn’t do something! Ultimately, she had overcome her own fears and with her own education, was now empowered!
With an Associate Degree in hand, McKelvin was hired at the UIC School of Public Health as a Facilitator, and starting in July, she will be teaching groups of youth on subjects such as nutrition, HIV, and a host of other topics. However she’s not done with her own education yet. McKelvin plans to start classes at UIC in the fall in pursuit of her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. After all, it’s never too late!
About Northwestern College:
Northwestern College (NC) is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, www.ncahlc.org. The college offers focused career-oriented associate degree and certificate programs with flexible schedules and a supportive faculty. Day, evening, weekend, online classes and online programs are available with campuses in Chicago, Bridgeview, and Naperville. More information can be found at www.northwesterncollege.edu or by calling toll-free (888) 205-2283.