Dreams come true for Clark College students of all ages

Running Start student, 18, grandmother of eight among 625 to graduate

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

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77th Clark College commencement

Largest class in history: Almost 1,900 degrees and certificates.

Nearly 625 graduates participated in the commencement.

First graduates from Clark's new high-tech mechatronics program.

Largest graduating class from weekend degree program.

Largest Running Start class: 215 high school students.

Dina Marchenko's story reads like the American Dream.

She was one of almost 625 Clark College students to participate in the school's 77th commencement Thursday night at Sleep Country Amphitheater.

When she was only 4 years old, Marchenko and her family emigrated from Russia and settled in Battle Ground. Now 18, Marchenko earned her associate's degree Thursday night, only about a week after earning her diploma from Battle Ground High School. The second-oldest of nine children, the Running Start student was the first of her siblings to graduate from college. But she wasn't the only Marchenko attending Clark. Both her older brother, Vladimir, and her younger sister, Julie, attended Clark with her.

"My parents are proud of us," Marchenko said.

She plans to attend Washington State University Vancouver in the fall to pursue her dream of someday attending law school. Marchenko is part of the largest Running Start class in Clark's history, with 215 high school students.

Catherine Mosely, 51, another graduate from a large family, became the first in her family of eight children to graduate from college.

"I wanted to be an inspiration to my eight grandchildren," Mosley said.

Six of her grandchildren witnessed her accomplishment. Mosley was working as a clerical substitute in a school, making little more than minimum wage, but she wanted to do more. Thursday night, she earned her associate's in applied science, paralegal, from Clark College. She's accepted a job as a paralegal with Dru Horenstein Family Law. Her new career starts July 8.

Exceptional Faculty Awards

During the ceremony, Clark College President Robert K. Knight announced the recipients of the 2013 Exceptional Faculty Awards: Mike Arnold, professor of health and physical education; Tony Chennault, professor of biology; Bruce Elgort, computer technology instructor; Patti Serrano, professor of business administration; and Mickey Thompson, a paralegal instructor. Also acknowledged were the Exceptional Classified Staff award recipients: Gracie White of Information Technology and Audra Rowton of physical sciences.

Romona Vercher received the 2013-2014 Community College President's Award, which provides full-time tuition and is renewable for a total of four semesters.

Keynote speaker Caroline Heldman, a 1991 graduate of Clark College, was home-schooled in Yacolt before starting classes at Clark at age 14. She encouraged graduates to "maximize your personal happiness" by pursuing meaningful work, actively helping others and having love in their lives. Heldman is an associate professor of politics and chairs the politics department at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4515; http://twitter.com/Col_Schools; susan.parrish@columbian.com