Monday, May 24, 2010

Graduation & the Stories Behind the Smiles

Our spring graduation event this year was particularly special for me. Following my first year at MVCC, which began and ended in the "blink of an eye", I've since been able to find more time to spend with students the past couple years. I found that I knew a fair number of then walking across the stage this past Friday afternoon. Their stories amplify the significance of our work.

The comments of commencement speaker Liz Murray illustrated her story, from being the homeless child of drug-addicted parents to graduating from Harvard University. The fact is that many MVCC students graduating this past weekend have experienced similar stories overcoming adversity.

I handed diplomas to such a broad range of individuals - spanning the full spectrum of the human condition. Young, old, differently-abled, honor students, international students who completed our ESL sequence before completing their academic program, and those who've overcome their own set of unique circumstances smiled as they shook my hand and walked across the stage. One woman accepted her diploma, marking an important milestone in a challenging journey that started with her release from prison and subsequent entry into a drug rehabilitation program at Johnson Park. Her journey, which now includes successful completion of her first college degree, continues this fall at a four-year university.

One of the brightest faces to walk across the stage was a young man who came to my office two years ago at the recommendation of one of his mentors. I asked him what he wanted to talk about and he said, "I just try to surround myself with positive people. I left high school early to get away from some bad influences and completed my GED. I came to MVCC to just find as much positivity in my life as possible." Here he was Friday evening popping up on stage to accept his diploma, smiling the biggest smile - graduating on time.

These two stories are part of the larger tapestry that defined our graduation ceremony this past weekend. They blend with the Phi Theta Kappa honor students walking across the stage, our Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence winners, Tatyana Gurina, Alyssa Strife and April Vroman, and Kyle Richardson, the National Scholar Athlete of the Year in Community College Sports, who is transferring to St. John's University on a scholarship as a junior majoring in Pre-Med. The diversity, the smiles, and the stories behind the smiles were all amplified by cheering families and supportive friends, providing a remarkable exclamation point to an incredible year.

If you have any comments on this post, please contact me directly at presblog@mvcc.edu.