On Wednesday, November 15, Northwestern University’s Correctional Education Program welcomed its inaugural class of incarcerated graduates, marking the first time a top-ranked American university has awarded degrees to incarcerated students.
Northwestern, based in Evanston, Ill., ranked ninth among national universities by U.S. News & World Report, runs the program in partnership with Oakton College and the Illinois Department of Corrections.
It was a moving commencement ceremony for 16 graduates and their loved ones at Stateville Correctional Facility in Crest Hill.
“I have no words, (it’s) otherworldly. “Where I come from, what I’ve been through and being here, there’s no way to describe it,” graduate Michael Broadway said after the ceremony.
Broadway achieved his rank despite several setbacks, including a battle with stage 4 prostate cancer.
“I’m so proud of him,” said his mother, Elizabeth. “I really am. She looks so good in that dress.” Due to her poor health, she hasn’t seen Broadway since he was in prison in 2005, and during the ceremony they both sobbed and hugged each other, making up for lost time.
51 is scheduled to premiere on Broadway in 2084.
If released early, he said he would like to start a nonprofit organization focused on youth empowerment.
READ: 60 inmates earn diplomas through DepEd alternative education
The founder of the program is Professor Jennifer Lackey.
“Twenty years ago, some of these guys were in rival gangs, and here they are exchanging poetry with each other and giving critical answers to sociology assignments,” Lackey said. “The love and growth we see in the community is truly unlike anything I experienced during my early days on campus.”
About 100 students participate in the Northwestern program throughout Stateville and Logan Correctional Center, a women’s prison.
New Northwestern graduate James Soto plans to continue his education in law school.
He hopes this first class of incarcerated students is just the beginning.
“I am not special, there are many more like me. And I hope they get a chance to premiere too, so we can showcase ourselves and maybe really change the world.”