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Each year, the Robert W. Lope award is presented to the college's Kellett School graduate who, through perseverance, academic achievement and encouragement of others, best represents an extraordinary commitment to education. The award is named for a student who tragically passed away just three months shy of his intended graduation in the spring of 1989, after arduously persuing his degree for 10 years. The 2010 Robert W. Lope Award was presented at the graduation banquet to Cinnamon Harley '10.
Harley courageously began her undergraduate journey at Lakeland 15 years after she graduated from high school. She enrolled as a true freshman with no college credits, and went on to complete all of her 120 academic credits at Lakeland while earning a 3.94 grade point average.
Once she made that commitment, she stuck with it, even when her mom was diagnosed with cancer. "I just thought that I was doing what I needed to do, meaning what was expected of me as far as homework and work…and my mother made me promise not to drop out when she got sick. It made her feel everything was normal and made me feel that I was helping her somehow, too." Happily, Harley's mother's cancer is in check and she was able to attend the banquet to see her daughter receive the award.
Harley received her bachelor of arts degree with a double major in marketing and business administration, a minor in economics, and the highest possible graduation honors, summa cum laude. She accomplished all of this in just three and a half years, while also raising her teenage daughter as a single mom and working full-time in a restaurant as a waitress and hostess.
Harley is a first generation college graduate—the first one in her family to receive a college degree. As is the case with many Kellett students returning to school as working adults, she has received tremendous support from her family and friends along her path. Her daughter is now a junior in high school, and said prior to her mom's graduation: "I'm so proud of my mom—she's worked very hard for everything" Her daughter went on to say that "seeing what my mom did makes me want to get a college degree, but watching her get such good grades while she was doing it actually inspired me to try and get better grades in school too—and my grades have really improved lately."
Harley has been described by her academic advisor and other Kellett School staff as Lakeland's biggest advocate because of her tireless efforts as a guest speaker and volunteer at new student orientation and many other Kellett School functions at Lakeland's Green Bay Center. She clearly understands the importance and value of higher education in today's society, and loves to share her story with others in the hope that it will inspire them to reach for the stars. She remarks, "I'm still astounded over the award. It's a very humbling experience and it makes me more determined to live up to my potential and to help people find their path."
Thinking back over the exhilarating weekend, she commented, "my favorite moment of the graduation weekend was seeing friends that I had been in class with and all the staff from the Green Bay campus; they are all like another part of my family. Walking into the gymnasium at the start of the graduation ceremony was a pretty moving moment as well. It was then that I realized that this was the moment we had all worked so hard for."