"Get involved," she told them. "And stay involved."
During the ceremony, Guerrero and SLCC President Deneece Huftalin recognized Sakkaphun and six other students as "graduates of excellence." Sakkaphun's story, in particular, has inspired fellow students and faculty alike.
"Now when students tell me 'I'm too old to be here, I know,' I tell them there are no excuses here anymore," said Williams, who coordinates SLCC's nursing assistant program.
In The Globe Online, SLCC's student newspaper, Eric Heiser, dean of SLCC's School of Applied Technology & Technical Specialties, called Sakkaphun "the textbook definition of a lifelong learner."
But caregiving and nurse assisting were not part of Sakkaphun's original path. In Bangkok, she taught at a local college and earned degrees in marketing and economics. She didn't become a caregiver until she moved to the U.S. with her son in 1981.
Her passion flourished while working with her first patient in Ohio, Sakkaphun said, and she continued working as a caregiver through several moves before settling in Utah in 2002.
"When (patients) are sick, sometimes nobody wants to help (them)," Sakkaphun said in an interview. "So when I take care of them – give them baths, feed them and help them – they are happy. And that makes me feel happy too."
Sakkaphun spent the last several years caring for a woman in Schenectady, N.Y., and moved back to Utah after the woman died. As she planned her next step, Sakkaphun said she decided she wanted the "piece of paper to back up (her) years of experience" as a caregiver, solidifying her decision to go back to school.
She began the nursing assistant program in October and completed it in February.
"As an instructor, I am here to help students succeed in their dreams not to diminish them," said Williams, who is the coordinator for the nurse assistant program. "It was exciting for me to have her here."
With English being her second language, Sakkaphun said memorizing the vocabulary needed for her coursework was a difficult challenge. Computers were a close second, she said, explaining that her son had to help her navigate online assignments.
At the end of May, Sakkaphun will return to Schenectady to work as a nurse assistant for her former patient's husband. She said she feels more ready than she ever to resume the work she loves, thanks to the SLCC program.
"I'm kind of like that saying 'you can't teach an old dog new tricks," Sakkaphun said. "But I'm the old dog and I did learn the new tricks."