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Inspiring Graduation Stories

Sofia DeMartino and her son Dashawn Williams at his graduation from Linn-Mar High School in 2019.
Courtesy of Sofia DeMartino
Sofia DeMartino and her son Dashawn Williams at his graduation from Linn-Mar High School in 2019.

It’s graduation season. It’s a time to celebrate achievements, endings and new beginnings. It’s also a time for many to breathe a sigh of relief, especially in the last two years.

Finishing college or high school in the midst of a pandemic carried with it so many challenges and disappointments. It is also important to recognize that some people had to delay graduation because of the pandemic, the need to care for children or family members or protect their own health or because things were just too hard right now. There is no shame in that. Your time will come.

On this edition of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe hears inspirational graduation stories from people who encountered plenty of obstacles along the way. First, how Sofia DeMartino received her associate's degree, bachelor's degree and master's degree all while being a single mother and working full-time. Also, DeMartino and her son Dashawn talk about his graduation from Linn-Mar High School in 2019 and how his mom was able to hand him his diploma on stage.

Later on, how Briana Hawkins received two master's degrees from Drake University while being a single mom to her preschool-aged daughter Reagan, and how they were able to share a special moment together on the graduation stage at Drake's commencement.


  • Sofia DeMartino, community relations and grants director for Horizons based in Cedar Rapids
  • Dashawn Williams, student at Kirkwood Community College, recently enlisted to join the Iowa National Guard
  • Briana Hawkins, recent graduate of Drake University with two master’s degrees, mother and inspirational professional
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Rick Brewer was a producer for IPR's Talk of Iowa and River to River