OCC graduate overcomes severe obstacles to earn a degree and continue at SU this fall

Local News

ONONDAGA HILL, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Onondaga Community College will celebrate its 57th commencement with a drive-thru ceremony on Sunday.

A traditional, outdoor commencement ceremony was originally planned for this date. Due to current conditions related to COVID-19, the college decided this drive-thru ceremony was the safest option.

Approximately 900 students are eligible to receive their degrees.

Among the graduates is Dawn Penson, a mother of three boys — one in middle school and twins in college. Dawn has been legally blind since the age of six, due to a hereditary disease, and has also been severely hard of hearing.

Despite her obstacles, Penson, a Human Service major, will receive her degree on Sunday.

Penson tells NewsChannel 9, “I said that if I passed these classes at the end of the semester when I walked across the stage I was going to dance across I wasn’t going to walk, I was going to dance.”

Penson was moving well through her spring semester, her final one at OCC when the pandemic hit and the college went to remote, virtual learning.

“No matter what life throws at us we have to take it on and just deal with it. But the fact that yes, I could not see the screen, yes it was difficult, yes,” she says

Penson, the current student representative on the OCC Board of Trustees, was able to push through, with tutor help, and finish the semester strong. Her disappointment was that her overall 4.0 GPA did slip to a final 3.95 GPA.

“I want others to say, well you know what blind people can do this. Someone who’s severely hard of hearing can do this,” she tells NewsChannel 9.

Penson is set to start in the fall at Syracuse University to continue her studies in the Social Work program.

“24 years ago when I was a high school and as a high school dropout, I would never have thought I would be where I am today. And just to know I did it, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without a team but I did it,” she says.

Penson says her plan is to continue her education until she is able to earn a doctorate.

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