LIBERTY — The anticlimactic ending to their senior year has been tough for millions of high school and college graduates across the nation as COVID-19 not only shuttered schools, but halted any year-end celebrations.
School officials across the country agree, and many are going to great and creative lengths to make graduation day memorable. The approach to graduation this year varies significantly by state and by school district. For Northland school districts, there is a chance to have a much belated graduation, but for others, that glimmer of hope is just that — a glimmer.
For Will Akin, Liberty, reaching a terminal degree such as a doctorate in ethical leadership from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois, seemed like a chance to walk in a graduation ceremony, but unfortunately, COVID-19 put a halt to that.
“There’s still a chance for a mid-August ceremony, but we will see,” he said.
Akin knows all too well what it’s like to not walk at graduation, having never been part of a graduation ceremony. He dropped out of high school to work and then join the Army. He got his GED and headed out.
“I received my associate’s in behavioral science, but got shipped out to flight school to become a helicopter pilot so that ceremony was out,” Akin said. “My BA ceremony came when I was stationed in Afghanistan so that wasn’t happening. I got my Bachelor of Science in criminal justice. My MBA in management came at a time I couldn’t get away so I was hoping the doctorate would be my chance to walk in a graduation ceremony.”
Akin said when he was younger, school was not for him.
“When I was in airborne school, there were nine of us talking about promotions and it came up that to be promoted, college would be part of the equation,” he said. “I was the only one to get my associate’s degree of that nine.”
Being deployed to Afghanistan, Akin discovered he had some time on his hands and found an online program through California Coast University.
“This time, it was easier for me and I got super excited,” he said. “I decided to go ahead and get my master’s, too,” Akin continued. “However, a doctoral program wasn’t in the picture until I started teaching at MidAmerica Nazarene. I realized I wanted to give it a go.”
The doctorate has taken some time to complete with work and family responsibilities.
“It’s been 2½ years to work on everything including the four chapters of my dissertation,” he said. “I made quality relationships.”
As with other graduates, Akin said he was disappointed the initial graduation ceremony has been canceled.
“There’s a chance for one, but I know this time has been full of disappointments for lots of us,” he said. “I know that we will all come out stronger on the other side. I mean, look at me, from high school dropout to Dr. Akin. I know there are many bigger and better things.”
Akin expects to teach at MidAmerica Nazarene in July and maybe another course this year.
“I am passionate about working with adult learners,” he said.
On the day he should have received his degree, Akin decided to put on his robe and all the regalia of his new title to take pictures with his son and wife.
“I put the photos on Facebook and one of me got almost 1,000 likes,” he said. “That was amazing, but it also cemented that I can relate to those other students who struggled with disappointment because of COVID-19.
“We can all relate to each other. My wife was supposed to walk too, for her associate’s degree. Things like this will pass. It’s about perseverance. My dad left when I was 3. We were homeless when I was 8 and I dropped out of high school at 16 to help my mom and brother. Now, I have my doctorate at 44. It all helps shape the person I am today.”