On Thursday, Cat Sanford will be the first one in her family to graduate college.
She’ll walk the stage, dressed in a cap and gown, at Central Lakes College’s ceremony.
The 21-year-old Brainerd resident said it’s been a hard road, not knowing what to expect and having no one in her family to hand down some tips. She was determined to better herself, though.
But first, she had to overcome some challenges in high school, like ditching the “bad influence” friends and raising her grades up from Ds. That turning point hit her in her senior year of high school.
“I had to get my life together. I knew it,” she said.
Sanford started at CLC in 2012 to get all of her general education classes completed.
“I told myself that if I’m going to go to college, I wanted it to be smaller,” she said. “CLC was convenient and close to home.”
Transitioning into the college life got easier as she took more classes at the college.
“I felt safe here,” she said. “The staff is great and they work with you.”
Sanford said a lot of that help came from the college’s TRIO office, which offers a climate supportive of the success of low-income, first-generation college students and individuals with disabilities.
“It was a big step for me,” she said. “No one in my family has ever graduated college.”
Even with that fact looming down on her, Sanford wanted something more.
“I wanted to better my life,” she said.
Plus, it was important to her family that she go to college.
“Education is key to making something better out of life,” she said.
Sanford’s mom, grandmother and 85-year-old great-grandmother will be at Thursday’s graduation ceremony.
“My great-grandma is so proud of me,” Sanford said. “She told me, ‘I knew you could do it. If anyone could, it’s you.’”
Sanford will continue her higher education through Bemidji State University’s online elementary education program.
Her advice to students coming after her: “Take a deep breath. Live in the moment. Make it count.”
CLC’s TRIO program is currently accepting applications for the 2015-16 school year. Go online to www.clcmn.edu/trio/ for more information.