[Bridgeview, Chicago-Jefferson Park & Rosemont, IL] Northwestern College conducted its 110th Commencement Ceremony at the Arie Crown Theater at McCormick Place in Chicago. This year’s ceremony featured two students who addressed their class, including Michelle Hizon-Pingul of Lombard and Raphael Parayao of Cicero. Michelle attended NC Online’s Health Information Technology Program while Raphael attended the Bridgeview Campus’s Violet L. Schumacher School of Nursing. Focusing on Michelle, she presented an uplifting address, concentrating on her journeys to graduation day while also touching upon the sacrifices her husband and children made while she focused on her educational goals.
Michelle graduated from high school in the Philippines in 1980, the youngest child of seven. Her parents instilled in their children the importance of education and they made sure that each of their children, including Michelle, completed a bachelor’s degree. By the late 1980’s, the Hizon family, including Michelle and all her siblings, were able to migrate to the United States.
While participating in weekly prayer meetings and choir practices with her Catholic prayer group in the US, Michelle met her husband Rolando. As Michelle didn’t have a car, Rolando was the volunteer who picked her up and dropped her off for all the meetings. What started out to be a great friendship blossomed into something more, and the two were married. Michelle and her husband now have two daughters, Jerissa Mae, 30, and Regina Mae, 17. She was a full-time, hands-on mother and wife, but also worked full time, most recently in the medical records department of the Physician Practice Division of Edward-Elmhurst Healthcare where she’s been for the past 9 years.
“I got the best of two worlds,” Michelle commented about her life. “My formative years were spent in the Philippines and I gained my adult life experiences here in America. Living in a third world country, I learned the importance of hard work because if you are lazy and complacent, you get hungry.” After migrating to the US, Michelle’s Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the Philippines was converted and certified as being the equivalent to a US Bachelor’s degree in Business.
In considering her transition from the Philippines, Michelle saw a lot of positives. “Here in the US I learned the art of adaptation. I not only adapted the US culture and traditions, but I combined it with my Filipino heritage. I believe it gave me a unique advantage as I look at things and events with a broad perspective.”
Finally, after several years working in various areas of the medical records department, Michelle knew that in order to stay afloat and be viable as an employee, she would have to reinvent herself. That meant going back to school. She questioned whether she would be able to return to college after having been out of school for over 25 years, but she knew she had to do it. Healthcare was an area where a lot of changes were happening, especially with the advent of electronic health records (EHR). Knowing that if she returned to college she would still need to work and care for her husband and family, Michelle started looking for online programs for Health Information & Technology (HIT). She checked the American Health Information Management Association’s (AHIMA) website and saw that Northwestern College was an accredited institution that had an online HIT program. That started the wheels moving, and in the Summer of 2011, Michelle enrolled at Northwestern College.
It takes a lot for a wife and mother to balance a full-time job while going to college. Sacrifices were made, and that included sacrifices made by everyone in her life. Had her husband Rolando not picked up many of her responsibilities such as laundry, washing dishes, etc., she knows she would never have been able to complete her degree. She also credits her children for helping her by becoming more “independent” and “grown-up”, doing their best not to “need” her all the time, and instead, doing more for themselves. Her daughter Jerissa Mae was in her late 20’s when she entered Northwestern College and had already married Perry Balacuit, but her younger daughter Regina Mae was still in high school. Unfortunately, during this period there were fewer home-cooked meals by mom, and less time to spend time with her.
One family member, however, played a huge role in her return to college but was not there to watch her graduate – her mom. Michelle’s mom had been the one who really convinced her to go back to school. Unfortunately after the first quarter her mother was diagnosed with Cancer and needed special attention and care. Thankfully Michelle was able to be there for her thanks to her HIT Program being an online one. She was able to study while her mother had chemo treatments, do homework and take quizzes/exams while her mother was in the hospital, and participate in group discussions and forums while her mother was doing rehab therapy. Sadly, her mother succumbed to the disease just six months later. In her heart, Michelle knows her mom was there when she graduated and watched her accept her diploma, beaming with pride as she looked down from heaven. Michelle will be forever grateful to Northwestern College’s HIT Online program, for it enabled her to go on with her studies during her mom’s illness, something that would have been impossible to do had she been an on-ground campus student.
On June 13, Michelle donned a cap and gown and attended Northwestern College’s Commencement Ceremony. For the first time, she met some of her fellow classmates that she had corresponded with in her online classes and discussions for the past few years. “Although we have Skype sessions and phone interaction, it was so refreshing to finally see my classmates face-to-face.”
With the additional honor of being selected to serve as one of the two student commencement speakers, Michelle took to the podium. She pointed out to her fellow graduates that Northwestern College had provided them with the skills and tools that they needed to improve themselves, but not in order to take the first job that was offered, but instead to provide them with better options, choices and opportunities. However, continuing their thirst for knowledge was also required. “Persevere in gaining wisdom; strive for additional growth and development. Realize that to maintain an edge in the job market, we need to stay curious, think, ask questions, and explore new ideas.” In addition, she urged them to initiate change, improve society and to fight for the ones who cannot do it for themselves.
“Success is not only measured by diplomas, or any form of worldly recognition,” she told her fellow graduates. “It is not measured by the number of digits we have before the decimal point in a paycheck, the make and model of the car we drive, or by the postal zip code of where we live. Real success is measured by the number of times we get back up when we fall, in learning how to fight for survival, of how we use our talents and skills, and in how much effort we put to uplift the lives of others.”
In April, Michelle passed the certification exam for AHIMA and is now a Registered Health Information Technician. She remains working at Edward-Elmhurst Healthcare in Elmhurst where she intends to work her way up to managing others and taking on increased responsibilities. As employees must always strive to stay current with their profession, Michelle plans on taking classes and seminars so as to keep updated with changes, especially on EHR, government regulations, and technology. In Michelle’s eyes, getting an education is not a task with a beginning, middle and an end – it is a lifetime responsibility.
About Northwestern College:
Northwestern College (NC) is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, www.ncahlc.org. The college offers focused career-oriented associate degree and certificate programs with flexible schedules and a supportive faculty. Day, evening, weekend, online classes and online programs are available. More information can be found at www.northwesterncollege.edu or by calling toll-free (888) 205-2283.