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A reception was held Mo-nday at Ridgewater College in Willmar for the first criminal justice studies st-udents to earn bachelor's degrees without having to attend classes at St. Cloud State College. Pictured is graduate Sarah Pederson, a native of Starbuck. Tribune photo by Gary Miller
A reception was held Mo-nday at Ridgewater College in Willmar for the first criminal justice studies st-udents to earn bachelor's degrees without having to attend classes at St. Cloud State College. Pictured is graduate Sarah Pederson, a native of Starbuck. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

Ridgewater and SCSU honor first graduates of program

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news Willmar, 56201

Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- Sarah Pederson was a kid from Starbuck who had a hard enough time adjusting to life in the bigger town of Willmar.

When she graduated with her associate degree from Ridgewater College, "I wasn't ready to move," she said. It meant a lot to her to find that moving wasn't necessary.

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Pederson and seven others graduated last week with bachelor's degrees in criminal justice studies from St. Cloud State University.

They were the first group to earn their criminal justice degrees entirely on the Ridgewater campus in Willmar.

The students were honored at a reception Monday afternoon at Ridgewater.

Pederson credited Sheree Morton, the coordinator of off-campus programs at Ridgewater, for working with the students to get them the classes they needed to finish their degrees. The classes offered were a combination of in-person, ITV and online courses.

The students' appreciation for Morton was apparent.

As each student was called up to receive a St. Cloud State graduation tassel and to shake hands with dignitaries from both campuses, Morton was greeted with big hugs.

The short ceremony had a light mood to it. Morton opened a musical greeting card that played "Pomp and Circumstance" as the graduates were called forward. One graduate made her way through the line with her young son clinging to her leg.

Morton said she was proud of the graduates who were sometimes "guinea pigs" in the two-year-old cooperative program as they paved the way for future students. "I'm very pleased it worked as well as it did," she said.

Bob Prout, chairman of the criminal justice studies department in St. Cloud, spoke to the graduates. He said he would have appreciated such a program at the local community college when he was younger.

Completing a college degree "takes you to a place of confidence," Prout said. "It gives you a greater opportunity to explore your passions."

"From St. Cloud State University's perspective, thank you for enrolling in our program and thank you for all the quality work you did," he said.

Ridgewater President Doug Allen told the students, "This is really a crowning achievement for you." He said he knew they had made sacrifices during their studies and praised them for setting an example for their children in persistence and achieving dreams.

For Pederson, 22, the criminal justice program was a good fit, because she wanted to study what has become something of a family business. She has three uncles and a cousin in law enforcement, and her brother graduated last week from the law enforcement program at Alexandria Technical College.

Karla Pederson, Sarah's mother, said she had been pleased with Sarah's decision to stay in Willmar, too. "She was pretty content in the smaller town," she said, and as a mother, she was concerned about St. Cloud's "party town" reputation.

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