1,093 earn degrees from Mesa State

Brianna Slater of Grand Junction receives her bachelor’s degree Saturday form Mesa State College President Tim Foster at Stocker Stadium.

Conrad Tombleson was a janitor at the Grand Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center when he began classes at Mesa State College in 2006.

The 42-year-old former Marine will return to work at the VA this summer, this time as a nurse.

“I just can’t imagine working anywhere else,” said Tombleson, who graduated Saturday from Mesa State College with a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

He was one of 1,093 Mesa State graduates Saturday, up from 880 graduates in spring 2009, and was one of a select number of students recognized during commencement by Mesa State President Tim Foster for having an exceptional journey to graduation.

Because of the rainy weather, students were offered the option of walking to receive their diploma outside at Stocker Stadium, where the rest of the ceremony was held, or walking inside in nearby Lincoln Park Barn.

Students Jackie Roberts of Fruita, an elementary teaching-English major, and Stephanie Nesbit of Cedaredge, a business administration major, offered the student address at commencement.

Tombleson worked odd jobs after spending five years post-high school as a Marine aviation electrician stationed at various times in North Carolina, California, Puerto Rico, Florida and Saudi Arabia. The Lamar native moved to Grand Junction with his wife, Rachael, and sons John, Jake and Josh in 2000. Rachael began working as a licensed practical nurse at the VA soon after the move, and Conrad took a janitorial position there three years later.

It wasn’t his wife’s job or even her return to school to earn a bachelor of science in nursing, which she received from Mesa State in 2007, that inspired Tombleson to pursue his career. It took a VA nurse telling him he should apply for a nursing program scholarship through the VA to plant the seed in his mind.

“I was deeply honored for someone to recognize I could do more,” he said.

Tombleson applied for and received the scholarship. He continued to work as a janitor for the first year and a half of school, fitting classes into his schedule between morning and afternoon shifts. The last two years of the program, the scholarship paid his janitorial salary and the cost of books and classes while he focused on nursing school full-time.

As part of the scholarship agreement, Tombleson will have to work as a nurse in the VA’s Community Living Center, the same area where his wife works, for three years.

“But I’ll be there forever, I hope,” he said.

Tombleson said he’s excited to start his new job and work with fellow veterans every day.

But after five consecutive years of having one or both parents in the family in school, he’s going on a vacation first.

The family leaves for Disneyland on Tuesday, the day after Jake’s graduation from Central High School.


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