Graduation season is wrapping up.
Rock Valley College held its commencement ceremony last week. It was especially important to a grassroots organization that provides full tuition scholarships to some RPS-205 graduates.
We first met Erica Bibalou in 2016 as a recent East High School graduate. Four years before that, she and her family came to Rockford from Africa.
“Growing up, as a refugee education was highly valued because it was our way out of poverty,” Bibalou said.
Thanks to a scholarship from Rockford Promise, Erica was able to attend Rock Valley College.
She just graduated from there, which was a big accomplishment for her and her family.
“Due to circumstances that life threw at us, my parents weren’t able to go to college,” Bibalou said. “So me graduating, me getting that scholarship, it’s also them finishing what they were not able to finish, through us.”
This years graduating class from RVC represents a milestone for Rockford Promise.
“This is our first wave of graduates to have received the scholarship and to graduate from college and we’re really proud of all their achievements,” said Emily Hartzog, board member of Rockford Promise. “We’re also very proud to note that they all have plans to continue their education, so they’re all going onto achieve four-year degrees and they all indicate they’re interested in coming back to the hometown that supported them through the process and giving back to the community.”
Erica is now transferring to Northern Illinois University to major in accounting. She plans to continue her education beyond a bachelor’s degree.
“I want to go all the way up,” Bibalou said. “I’m going to be Dr. Erica one day.”
The ultimate goal of Rockford Promise is to become a fully funded program offering scholarships to all
students who graduate from Rockford Public Schools. Proponents say the program serves as an
economic incentive for people to want to live and work in the community.
“When you can offer full tuition scholarships to any graduate of Rockford Public Schools, Rockford becomes a very attractive place for people to want to raise their families, for businesses to want to locate and in the process, we increase educational attainment for our community, so it’s really a win-win scenario,” Hartzog said.
The financial aspect of Rockford Promise is just part of the equation. The group also provides scholars with professional mentors and social and academic counseling.