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It’s college graduation time. For some, it’s the end of a winding, bumpy road.

A lot of students look back on their college years and wonder how they got through a class or two, like a statistics or phys ed course that didn’t play to their strengths.

But on a larger scale, some members of Triangle-area universities’ Class of 2019 have faced challenges that threatened to derail their entire college careers.

Ruhama Wolle, who will give the student commencement speech at N.C. State University on Saturday, got kicked out of college her first time around, she said in a story from the school’s news service.

Wolle is a native of Ethiopia who moved with her parents, brother and sister to California when she was 5. While she was in middle school, the family relocated to Holly Springs, where the cost of living was more manageable for Wolle’s parents.

“I didn’t want to come,” Wolle recalled. “I was upset about leaving friends behind.”

She couldn’t wait to get back to California to attend UCLA, her “dream school.”

Wolle did get to UCLA, she said, but was tossed out in her third year.

“I made some mistakes,” she told N.C. State’s news service. “And I felt like I lost everything, that I had missed my chance. I thought, ‘It’s all gone.’”

She moved back to North Carolina, she said, and spent some time figuring out what went wrong. She enrolled at Wake Tech with a renewed — and narrowed — focus on academics, not even allowing herself to make friends.

“Once you’ve lost something, you realize the privilege of what you had. I wanted it back, and I knew I was going to have to work twice as hard to earn it,” she said.

She transferred to NCSU, where she allowed herself to connect with friends and with professors who she said were willing to her guide her through her communication major and journalism minor.

She’ll graduate summa cum laude and enter the Global Luxury and Management master’s program at NCSU’s Poole College of Management. Eventually, she hopes to combine her interest in fashion with her passion for prison reform, maybe opening a clothing shop and donating some of the proceeds to prison reform projects, she told NCSU.

Minnie Jones almost had to cut short her college education, too. Jones, 61, already was on a tight income when her car broke down this year. She thought she might have to drop out of Wake Technical Community College, she told school officials, according to the school’s public information office.

But Jones applied for $1,000 in emergency funds from the Finish Line grant program, introduced in July 2018 for N.C. community college students who are at least halfway to getting their degree or certification in healthcare, a skilled trade, information technology or hospitality.

“Without the funds, I would have missed classes and would not have been able to complete my work-based learning obligations. I would not have been able to graduate,” Jones told the school.

Jones was one of 10 students Wake Tech students who received the grants this academic year. The money, which includes federal funds, can be used to pay for course materials, housing, medical costs, dependent care and other emergencies.

Jones received her associate in science degree in Human Services Technology during the school’s commencement May 4.

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Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter at The News & Observer who writes about North Carolina culture, religion and social issues. She has held jobs throughout the newsroom since 1987.
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