By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Three years ago, Sydney Hansen walked across the stage inside the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s Health and Sports Center to receive her bachelor’s degree in family studies.
It was a big moment for the Minden native, so you’d expect her to be a bit emotional.
“I’m much more relaxed today, just because I’ve been through it all before,” Hansen said Friday as she prepared to take the same stroll.
Sure, she had her nerves in check, but she was just as excited to earn her second degree from UNK.
“I would say this one’s more important because it puts me on the path I wanted to be on for my life and career,” she said.
Hansen added a master’s degree in elementary school counseling at the spring commencement ceremony, culminating a UNK career that included a yearlong internship at Kenwood Elementary School in Kearney and a graduate assistantship that allowed her to work at the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska on campus.
“It feels good,” said Hansen, who celebrated with her parents and brother. “I’m ready to get out there and start making a difference in children’s lives.”
Although she’s leaving central Nebraska to start her professional career at Lost Creek Elementary School in Columbus, the time she spent at UNK won’t soon be forgotten.
“It’s always going to have a special place in my heart,” Hansen said.
Nearly 700 students joined Hansen on the path to success Friday by earning graduate or undergraduate degrees from UNK. The ceremony was attended by a standing room-only crowd, with Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Charlie Bicak delivering the commencement address and Nate Grimm of Fremont speaking on behalf of the graduates.
Dawson Kouma of Dwight received a bachelor’s degree in aviation systems management, a reward for his hard work and dedication.
“It was a long road to get here,” he said. “This is the payoff in the end to show that you really accomplished something.”
Kouma will finish his flight training at Council Bluffs Municipal Airport in Iowa, where he also hopes to work as a flight instructor. Eventually, he wants to be a pilot for a commercial airline or charter company.
“I feel like everything I’ve learned here at UNK helped build my leadership skills and my communication skills so I can connect with people and further myself and my career,” Kouma said.
Guadalupe Maravilla called her college experience “fun, chaotic and challenging” – the perfect preparation for professional life.
She was born in Mexico and raised in Lexington, where she learned English and became the first member of her immediate family to finish high school. Earning a degree in health sciences “means a lot” to Maravilla, who proudly wore a stole recognizing first-generation UNK graduates.
“My parents came here to give me an opportunity to better my life,” she said. “They don’t want me to struggle like they did.”
Maravilla, who plans to attend dental hygiene school, wrote a special message on her graduation cap for them: Para mi familia.
“I’m dedicating this to my parents,” she said.