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Emotional reception honors determined nontraditional learners

James West & Bucky Badger

One by one, speakers mounted the podium to discuss nearly insurmountable challenges. They talked of financial troubles, health issues, single parenthood. And yet the mood in Union South’s Varsity Hall was buoyant. These were adult students who, against all odds, found a way to continue their education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Adult Student Scholarships and Awards Reception, hosted by Adult Career and Special Student Services on April 28, honored more than 40 of these extraordinary nontraditional learners.

James West (also pictured with Bucky Badger, above): 'This room is full of hope and determination.'
James West (also pictured with Bucky Badger, above): ‘This room is full of hope and determination.’ Photographs by Sharon Vanorny.
Sarah Mangelsdorf, UW-Madison’s Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, marveled at the students’ determination.
“Your path to a college degree has included challenges that would make many people give up, but you didn’t,” Mangelsdorf said in her congratulatory remarks. “Your commitments, your goals, and your accomplishments are inspiring and quite amazing.”
Yasmine Horton wants to help people transform their lives, just as she transformed hers.
Yasmine Horton wants to help people transform their lives, just as she transformed hers.

‘A divine thing’

Despite their own struggles, many of the students spoke of a desire to help others. Yasmine Horton, who won a Bernice D. Kuney Scholarship, is pursuing a master’s in social work to help people transform their lives, just as she transformed hers. Horton struggled with drug addiction before making the transition to college with help from UW-Madison’s Odyssey Project in 2006.
“Now I’ve been gifted with the opportunity to help other drug-addicted people find their way out of the cave,” she said in an emotional speech.
James West, who won an Adult Student Scholarship, is pursuing a B.S. in social welfare at age 68. He called himself an “old cat from the corner”—someone who nagged his kids about the value of an education while doing nothing to pursue his own degree. Now that he’s motivated himself to do so, he hopes to be a role model for other adults who want to finish school.

Provost Sarah Mangelsdorf: 'Your commitments, your goals, and your accomplishments are inspiring and quite amazing.'
Provost Sarah Mangelsdorf: ‘Your commitments, your goals, and your accomplishments are inspiring and quite amazing.’
“This brings me to tears,” West said as he surveyed the scene in Varsity Hall, full of proud students, supportive family members, and irrepressible children. “All around us is turmoil, but this room is full of hope and determination. That’s a divine thing.”

‘We cannot do this alone’

The award and scholarship winners expressed heartfelt gratitude to the donors. The reception featured 14 scholarships, including the Alma Baron Second Chance for Women Scholarships, the Single Parent Undergraduate Scholarship, the Nancy W. Denney Memorial Scholarship, the PLATO Scholarship Fund, and the Lisa Munro Next Generation Scholarship.
It also showcased the 14 nominees, two finalists, and two recipients of the Outstanding Undergraduate Returning Adult Student Awards, which recognize those who’ve resumed their academic careers after a significant interruption and have arrived at senior status while juggling all the demands of adult life.
“All of these students expressed a deep appreciation for the opportunity to study at UW-Madison,” said Cathleen Trueba, Assistant Dean of Students, in presenting the Outstanding Undergraduate Returning Adult Student Awards. “I thank you for the passion you all bring to being Badgers.”

Michael Windle, with family and Bucky: 'Whatever we need, you guys are there for us.'
Michael Windle, with family and Bucky: ‘Whatever we need, you guys are there for us.’
Altogether, over $80,000 was awarded at the Adult Student Scholarships and Awards Reception. Anyone wishing to contribute to the scholarships, administered by Adult Career and Special Student Services, can learn more here.
Michael Windle spoke for the room in thanking the donors and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Windle, who is completing a B.A. in legal studies and political science, was nominated for an Outstanding Undergraduate Returning Adult Student Award.
“We cannot do this alone,” he said. “Whatever we need, you guys are there for us. From the bottom of our hearts, we cannot thank you enough.”