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Mike Browning couldn't stop staring at the wall, nor could he make that feeling of shock go away.
For the first time in 38 years, he didn't have a steady paycheck. His job as a route leader, supervising 15 delivery drivers at Nickles Bakery, was a casualty of the economic downturn two years ago. But for the 59-year-old South Toledoan, it was also a chance to reinvent himself.
Mr. Browning, who had only a high school diploma, enrolled in college, studied in China for two weeks last year, and did so much homework that it became a full-time job.
"I'm tickled I've gone back to school," he said. "I've worked at it, don't get me wrong. But I've had a ball."
Mr. Browning received his college diploma and was a student keynote speaker during the commencement ceremony as Owens Community College handed out 803 diplomas last week at its 46th annual spring graduation.
In his speech, Mr. Browning found inspiration from an ancient philosopher -- Professor Dumbledore of the Harry Potter series of books. "It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices," he quoted Friday.
Throughout the past two years, there were times Mr. Browning felt like "the old guy" in classes of students a decade younger than his four children.
He dreaded the research papers. Remembering how to write such papers was difficult after so many years.
But Mr. Browning, who studied marketing and sales technology, was good at math, and he had a career in management and food service to draw from.
One of his teachers, English adjunct instructor Holly Burnside of West Toledo, said, "Returning students bring so much to the classroom by way of life experience and maturity level."
Mr. Browning, who graduated with a 3.8 grade-point average, plans to study at Owens for one more year and then take online courses at Ohio University for a bachelor's degree.
His wife, Donna, who was in the commencement audience, recalled reminding him to do his homework, proofreading his papers, and leaving the house so he'd have a quiet place to study.
"I'm very proud of him. He's just done so much, I don't think I could have done it," she said. "He's worked so hard."