Manuel Bartsch said that when he was leaving high school, he never thought he was going to go to college because it would not have been financially possible.
But, during Heidelberg University's commencement ceremony Sunday afternoon, Bartsch was handed a diploma for completing a bachelor's degree in political science.
Bartsch, who came to the United States from Germany with his stepgrandfather when he was in fourth grade but didn't realize his illegal status until he applied to take the ACT as a student at Pandora-Gilboa High School, was awarded a full-tuition scholarship from Heidelberg, and two anonymous donors provided his room and board during his five years at Heidelberg.
"(I'm) very grateful," he said.
Bartsch didn't have a Social Security number, had been living illegally in the U.S. and spent time in jail. Prior to graduation, he said he still was considered undocumented, and his plans were to attempt to apply for work authorization once he graduated. He said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement no longer was trying to deport him.
He said he has no plans to return to Germany, and if he were to leave the United States, he would not be allowed to return for 10 years. He said it is going to take an act of Congress for him to become a citizen, a move he said needs to happen.
Bartsch said he wants to advocate for immigration reform and the Dream Act.
In his five years at Heidelberg, he was involved in the Nu Sigma Alpha fraternity and served on the executive board of Greek Council. He also participated in Model African Union in Washington, D.C., about a year ago and represented the country of Chad.
"It was really eye-opening," he said.
Bartsch said he is going to miss Tiffin, the campus atmosphere, his fraternity and Heidelberg. He said people were supportive of his situation, and professors always were willing to listen and give him advice.
"I like the class sizes, the faculty here," he said.
Another graduate has plans to start a winery in the area someday.
Anna Brodman, a Tiffin native who received a bachelor's degree in business administration and accounting, completed an assessment of the opportunities of Ohio's grape and wine industry for her senior honors project. She said she looked at the history of wine and grapes in the state.
"Based on that, I formulated a business plan for a winery in downtown Tiffin. ... (In the plan,) I did everything from marketing to different permits I would need to get," she said.
Brodman said she completed the project as if she would be opening the winery. She won't be opening the winery in the near future because of the costs associated with the task, but she said she hopes next year to plant at least some of the grapes she would be using.
She said she hopes to plant the grapes at her parents' house near Republic, and the winery would be located somewhere in downtown Tiffin, probably as close to The Ritz Theatre as she could get.
Brodman, who has been thinking about the idea since she was young, she said she would love for the winery to be a full-time job.
"It would have to be," she said.