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April 25, 2003 - In a testament to the powers of determination, continuing education student LaTanga (pronounced LaTanya) Joseph, age 45, will graduate this May from Aquinas College after years of challenges. The victory is bittersweet, though, because her biggest supporter, her mother, won't be there to celebrate.

LaTanga has persevered in her quest to finish her bachelor's degree with a major in communication while facing daunting obstacles, health concerns and, in general, the passage of 28 years, said Pat Kozal, Joseph's college advisor. Some of the events she faced include a mild heart attack in the fall of 2001, the death of her mother last August, and the challenge of working in Chicago every weekend while she attended Aquinas College.

Sometimes you have to do whatever it takes to reach your goals, said Joseph, who was recently inducted into Alpha Sigma Lambda, the national honor society for continuing education students. She will graduate with a 3.0 cumulative GPA.

Joseph graduated from Benton Harbor High School in 1975 and took classes at several schools including Ferris State University. She eventually received her associate in arts degree from Grand Rapids Community College in December 2000.

And this spring, she looks forward to commencement once again. It's a happy time and an unhappy time, Joseph said, because she is achieving a life goal, yet her biggest cheerleader, her mother, won't be there with her.

I believe that my family has always been pro-education, especially as African-Americans. It's always been important to be the best you can be, she said.

Joseph, an only child, was able to visit her mother in Benton Harbor every weekend on her way to and from Chicago. When her mother became terminally ill, Joseph took a semester off to care for her. Her mother, who died at the age of 62 of cancer, was Joseph's inspiration, she said, because what she saw her mother go through gave her a perspective on her own life and challenges.

As a continuing education student, LaTanga's story is one of many, Kozal said. But what makes her stand out from the crowd are her personal qualities of courage, cheerfulness, persistence, and personal responsibility.

Joseph will join the other members of the Aquinas College graduating class of 2003 on Saturday, May 10, at 2:00 p.m. when the 536 graduates will receive their diplomas. Roger Wilkins, Clarence J. Robinson Professor of History and American Culture at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia and former Assistant U.S. Attorney General, will deliver the commencement address. The title of his speech is Patriotism in Trying Times. Wilkins will be awarded the degree of Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa. John Canepa, consulting principal of Crowe Chizek and Company LLP and former chairman and chief executive officer for Old Kent Financial Corporation, will receive the degree of Doctor of Business Administration, Honoris Causa. The third honorary degree will be presented to Katherine S. Donnelly, community activist and leader. She will receive the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa. Canepa and Donnelly are Aquinas College Trustee Emeriti.

Consistently ranked one of the top liberal arts colleges in the Midwest by U.S. News and World Report, Aquinas College offers an approach to learning and living that teaches students unlamented ways of seeing the world. Founded in 1886 by the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, the College's Dominican tradition of working, service and lifelong learning remains alive today in a diverse student body. Students from more than 22 states and 15 foreign countries are enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs. Within six months of graduation, nearly all graduates are in full-time jobs, enrolled in professional schools of law, medicine, or dentistry, or in a master or doctoral program. For more information, visit our Web site at