Commencement: It’s both an ending and a beginning. In the community college world, commencement is the culmination of students’ challenges and victories — and the ultimate proof of completion, as they bid farewell and head into the workforce or to a four-year institution.
This year was a big one for community colleges, prompted by President Barack Obama’s proposal to make them tuition-free. The president delivered the commencement speech at Lake Area Technical Institute, in Watertown, South Dakota, on May 8.
In his speech, he said, “You saw doors of opportunity waiting to be opened. You decided that community college would be your key to unlocking those doors. So that’s why I came here today — to this little tiny school, in this little tiny town. I didn’t come here to inspire you. I came here because you, the graduates, inspire me. You have lived through some of the toughest economic times in your country’s history, and you still chose to come here and invest in yourself, because you still believe that America is a place where you can make it if you try.”
Here are excerpts from other community college commencement speakers across the country. They are a testament to the invaluable role community colleges play in the lives of students, their families, their communities and the country.
Jill Biden, community college professor and wife of Vice President Joe Biden
Central Piedmont Community College
May 14, 2015
“Remember that the education you received here is so much bigger than the diploma. It is the confidence to know that you can succeed, even when you face the most difficult, knotted problems. It is the courage to take a leap of faith into a new career, move to a new city to pursue your dream, or ask for the promotion you know that you deserve.
“Community colleges are a gateway — a gateway to a new career, to a four-year university and to a more prosperous life. CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, star athletes and public officials have all walked through the doors of a community college. They started their careers here, just like you.”
Pamela Trotman Reid, president, University of Saint Joseph
Manchester Community College (MCC)
May 28, 2015
“This is a special place where students from Manchester and the surrounding towns come together to study, develop career skills, grow and achieve their dreams. If education is the route to a better life, MCC has provided you with the road map and the traveling shoes. If education is a door to opportunity, MCC has provided you the key as it delivers ‘life-changing knowledge.’”
Kathleen Keady, liberal arts major, planning a career in communications
Holyoke Community College
May 30, 2015
“Many of you work one, two and sometimes three jobs, raise children, take care of parents and family — all while getting your degree. You have made your education a priority. I can’t begin to express to you how incredible that makes you. I want you to know that from the vantage point of this 50-year old woman who has seen and met a great many people over the years, you all have left a lasting impression on me that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”
Terry McAuliffe, Virginia governor
Northern Virginia Community College
May 17, 2015
“I love the community college system. I am the first governor in Virginia history to visit all 23 community colleges. I understand the importance of community colleges to grow with the Virginia economy for workforce development. They are absolutely key. And with at least one community college located within 30 miles of nearly every single Virginian, community colleges are essential to my plan of building a high-skilled workforce. … So, folks, I’m counting on you to get to work immediately.”
Jay Box, president, Kentucky Community and Technical College System
Big Sandy Community and Technical College
May 8, 2015
“I began my education at a community college in Texas, and it was the best place for me. I gained the knowledge, experience and confidence I needed to transfer and continue my education and earn advanced degrees. It wasn’t always easy, but I stuck with it, just like you did. You have worked hard, and now you’re ready for the next chapter in your life. It’s an exciting time because you have so many options for a bright future … whether you’re going straight into the workforce or transferring to a four-year university.”