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GOSHEN -- The sweet taste of accomplishment was fresh in the mouths of graduates as they walked in procession across the lush, green campus of Goshen College Sunday.
Commencement is a day of celebration. Family and friends nod and applaud in acknowledgment of the graduates' many late hours of studying and writing papers. Bells are ringing and photos are taken.
But under the caps and behind the graduates' proud smiles, there's a snippet of worry: Now what? Where do I go from here? Will I ever see my friends again? Can I get a job?
Tracey Stack doesn't have those worries.
Rather than searching for a job that pays a living wage, Stack has the privilege of having at least three employers already.
"I can work as many or as few (hours) as I wish. You can work full or part time, depending on your needs," Stack said.
She's among six people who are the first to graduate from Goshen College with their bachelor's degrees in sign language.
Sign language professor Myron Yoder said a big shortage in nationally certified interpreters puts Stack and her fellow sign language graduates in demand.
"I get a lot of calls saying, 'How many people do you have graduating? When are they graduating?' and asking if they can work before they've graduated," Yoder said.
Unlike many other colleges, Goshen College requires that students try their hand at the written exam during their junior year. All six students passed, but Stack's at the top of this year's graduate crop because she recently became the first to also have passed the national performance test before graduation.
That was an unexpected victory for the 41-year-old single mother.
"Because I passed the exam, I can work anywhere in the nation," Stack said.
"I was expecting it to be a learning experience and then you try again. Word got out that a senior passed her exam, so I got calls from people saying, 'Are you available for work?' I have had most of my interviews and can pick what fits my needs. I'm still going, 'Is this real?'" she said, pinching her wrist.
Stack's planning to work as a freelance interpreter in Chicago, Toledo, Lagrange and anywhere in between, as long as it's within a two-hour radius of her base in Goshen.
And she won't have to worry about making enough money to pay off those student loans.
The starting salary range for a sign language interpreter is $25-$40 per hour right out of college. With more experience, the rate can go up to about $60 per hour. The downside is that freelance interpreters have to pay their own insurance and sometimes mileage.
Stack, a Concord High School graduate, said the variety of interpreting jobs is part of what appeals to her. During an internship in Chicago, she facilitated communication between deaf and hearing at the shooting of a video about domestic violence.
She can interpret anything from a Weight Watchers meeting to a psychology class, a CAT scan, family counseling and a visit to a veterinarian. Doing so, she may work for some of her deaf friends, who first peaked her interested in becoming an interpreter.
Stack's recipe to success is simple, but classic: Do your homework, listen and pay attention in class, and network with professionals in the field before you graduate.
When she starts her first official job this week, she's reaping the fruits of her labor.
"There are times when you want to quit, but that doesn't meet the goal," she said, resolutely. "If I can do this, I can do anything."
Now Stack, like the other graduates of Goshen College, can pride herself in having reached her goal.
Contact Gitte Laasby at email@example.com.