Each year on graduation weekend, students who have earned their degrees online from Fort Hays State University come from near and far to celebrate their accomplishments.
They descend on the campus — some for the first time ever, proud to walk across the stage to receive their diplomas.
Friday, nearly 60 of those graduates gathered in Hammond Hall, home of the Virtual College, for a reception recognizing them for their accomplishments before commencement ceremonies that night and Saturday morning.
The come-and-go event featured graduates from Kansas and 14 other states, from coast to coast and anywhere in-between.
Everyone had a story to tell, and we connected with a few to share their stories.
• Donald W. Wilson completed his Bachelor of General Studies with an emphasis in history.
Although he lives just a couple of hours away in Junction City, he had never stepped foot on the FHSU campus before this weekend.
A veteran of the U.S. Army, Wilson would have been just fine receiving his diploma in the mail.
But his wife, Judith, insisted he accept it in person.
“I thought if you worked that hard, you should be recognized,” she said, speaking directly to her husband.
Wilson, the first in his family to graduate from college, said he chose the Virtual College route “so I could be home with family.”
He had joined the military immediately after high school graduation in Tyler, Texas, in 1989.
After several duties overseas, Wilson was stationed at Fort Riley near Junction City and decided to make his home there after retiring from the army in 2009.
Wilson, now 56, has been so impressed with his entire FHSU experience that he is thinking about going to graduate school.
• Katrenia Luthi from Holton also says “you’re never too old to go back to school.”
Luthi worked in the banking industry for 14 years but after her children were grown, she decided she wanted to teach.
“Our children were adults, and I wanted to go back to school,” she said.
After completing the first two years of her degree in her hometown through the Highland Community College satellite program, Luthi started looking online for opportunities to finish her degree.
“I liked what I saw of the Fort Hays State program. Fort Hays State really called me.”
Luthi said she thinks the education department “is fantastic.”
After student teaching at Royal Valley Elementary School in Hoyt – only about 15 miles from her hometown – Luthi is fortunate enough to continue teaching there next year after a first-grade position opened up.
Luthi said she “can’t say enough about Fort Hays State's online program. You have to work hard, have to be super disciplined, but you get a such a good education.”
“Without the online opportunity,” she added, “I would not have achieved this degree.”
• Joy Lingenfelter was one of the Virtual College graduates on hand to celebrate the completion of her master’s of science degree in education through the Transition to Teaching (T2T) program.
Her bachelor’s was in wildlife conservation and management from Missouri Western State University in 2001, and she enjoyed environmental education so she decided to look into the T2T program. She now teaches sixth-grade science, social studies and writing at the Garden City Intermediate Center.
She said she thought accessibility to professors was second to none.
“You really got to to know your professors,” Lingenfelter said. “They wanted you to contact them if you had any questions, and I even have some of their personal phone numbers.”
She also liked the relevancy of the program.
“It was really interactive,” Lingenfelter said. “Things we would talk about online, I would have an incident in the classroom right after that, and I knew how to react.”
Lingenfelter was accompanied at the recognition reception by her 10-year-old son Bryce. She said it’s been a learning experience for him, too.
Now, Bryce can have a little more Mom time.
“We’re going to travel some,” Lingenfelter said. “Mostly, I’m looking forward to taking my kid fishing.”