Valedictorian chose DACC over others that offered scholarships
DANVILLE – When Eric Free was a senior at Bismarck-Henning High School, he was offered full-ride scholarships to Blackburn College and several other small schools.
He turned them down to attend Danville Area Community College.
"I'm pretty close to my family," said Free, 20, of Bismarck. "I wasn't quite ready to move away from home. I feel like DACC was a good choice for me."
Free is one of the nearly 250 students who will receive an associate's degree or certificate from DACC this year. About 100 will participate in the college's graduation ceremony at 7 p.m. today at the Mary Miller Center gym.
Aya Fubara Eneli, chief executive officer of Aya Fubara Eneli & Associates, is the commencement speaker.
The valedictorian of his high school class, Free started at DACC in August 2005. He was awarded a Presidential Scholarship, which covered his tuition costs for a year. The scholarship was renewed for a second year.
"DACC does a good job of advertising their scholarships," he said. "I like that they have one application you can fill out for all their scholarships."
Free had heard people say that DACC wouldn't be academically challenging, that it would be like an extension of high school. He didn't see it that way.
"I think it was as good as any other school to start off with," said Free, who earned a 4.96 GPA and is graduating from DACC magna cum laude. "There were several classes – like calculus and my math classes – that would've been right up there with any school I would've gone to. They weren't easier because they were at DACC."
Free also liked the size of his classes, which ranged from eight to 10 students up to 30 to 40.
"You got to know the professors and the people on campus a little more," he said, adding it provided a good transition from high school. At one of the other schools he had applied to, "I signed up for classes that were bigger than my graduating class of 70." While at DACC, Free was on the college's basketball team. He practiced and traveled with the team and kept stats his first year, and he played his second year. In addition, he worked a part-time job at the veterans hospital next door to the college.
"I was able to go to school and work and save money for college," he said. "I got my (general education courses) out of the way. Now I feel like I'm ready to go on and start a new stage of my life."
Free is transferring to Illinois State University in Normal, where he plans to get a bachelor of science degree in math and his teacher's certification in two years. He wants to teach high school math and coach basketball.
Free will receive the Mary Miller Scholarship, which is awarded to transfer students at the top of their class for educational expenses.
The scholarship always has been considered the most elite scholarship given at graduation, marketing director Lara Conklin said. In an attempt to bolster the award and return it to prominence, she added, the DACC Foundation did some additional fund raising for the scholarship and will boost the scholarship from $500 to $1,000 this year.