meka-burgess_web.jpgFORT LAUDERDALE – For many students, finishing a college degree can be challenging.  For Meka Burgess that challenge included dealing with Lupus. She was diagnosed in 2004 and the path toward a college degree seemed nearly impossible. But Burgess didn’t let it stop her from focusing on her future.

While taking a break from her studies to concentrate on her health, Burgess, 35, received a letter from Broward College informing her of a new program called Project Win-Win. Burgess, who had started her degree in 2001, restarted her quest in 2010, and got back on track to finish her degree.

More than 115,000 students have graduated from Broward College since the college was established in 1959. Burgess now joins those ranks.

Project Win-Win was an effort by Broward College to identify former students who left without completing a degree and award the degrees retroactively. Students who were just short of earning degrees were encouraged to re-enroll and complete their chosen degree program.

“I was grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Win-Win program,” said Burgess. “Besides the health issue, it was so discouraging to try to go back to school. The program pushed me to finish my degree and encouraged me to move on to the next phase of my life.” 

To celebrate the lighthearted and fun side of commencement, Broward College will help graduates celebrate this milestone in their lives by hosting #GradSHOEation — a social media event.

Through sky-high stilettos, fancy flats and classic Chuck Taylors, graduates are encouraged to stand out from a sea of blue and black gowns by showing off their fanciest footwear. This year, a shoe drive will be held the day of the event, allowing the 2013 graduating class the opportunity to give back to the community before leaving as graduates.

Broward College will donate the shoes to Shoes for the Cure, a local organization that recycles shoes and reconditions them for the needy, or turns them into raw material used for running tracks, playgrounds and tennis courts.

Robert W. Runcie, superintendent of Broward County Public Schools (BCPS), will be this year’s commencement speaker. Runcie was appointed by the school board to become the 20th superintendent of the BCPS on Oct. 5, 2011.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard College and a master’s degree in business administration from Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management. 

Burgess credits her time spent in the military for her ability to conquer life and prepare for anything, especially academics.

By finishing her degree, Burgess hopes to be a role model for her children and others pursuing a college education, showing that anything is possible if you put your mind to it and never give up.

“Being diagnosed with Lupus was my biggest challenge because I never knew when the symptoms would occur,” said Burgess. “Having a strong belief in finishing what you start, I didn’t let my health issues get in the way of achieving my education. I kept pushing through.”

After graduation, Burgess plans on applying to Florida Atlantic University or Broward College’s Teacher Education Program to pursue a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. “I come from a long line of educators.  My ultimate goal is to become a teacher,” said Burgess.