Commencement Means Begin


Caroline Thurston spoke at the DCC ceremony

Fourteen students in a foster youth Great Expectations program earned credentials and 58 students in Danville Community College’s Middle College program earned GEDs. The graduates celebrated in a ceremony Thursday May 17.

Below is an excerpt from the speech given by commencement speaker Caroline Thurston, Middle College statewide coordinator.

Raise your hand if:

  • You used to  feel (and maybe you still do) like you didn’t belong in college
  • Neither one of your parents had been able to go to college
  • You lacked confidence in your ability to succeed in college
  • You never really sat down with anyone to develop clear and realistic career goals
  •  You had (or have) transportation issues—it’s just hard to get there
  • You have your own kids, or other kids to take care of, so childcare can be a problem for you when you’re trying to get to classes
  • You thought you couldn’t afford to go to college
  • You had to work and didn’t see how you could go to school and earn money
  • At some point, you just didn’t have as much support as you needed

Graduates from DCC's Great Expectations program with Coach Donald Pippin

So, look around you. And this is just a sample of the barriers some students face when thinking about their educational future. Do you know how hard it is to get to where you’ve gotten with even one of these barriers? Do you know how many odds you’re beating everyday with the work you’re doing? Do you have any idea the impact the work you’re doing now will have on your life and family in the future?

Only about 2 percent of folks without a high school diploma ever come back to school to get a GED. And only about 30% of folks with only a GED go on to further their education. And furthering your education or career training is essential now. 20-30 years ago, you could get a decent job with no high school diploma or only a high school diploma or GED. Today? According to the US Department of Labor, 70 percent of jobs in the next ten years will require at least one year of college.

The chances of you being here at all today were so slim. But here you are, anyway, against the odds.

The only significant barrier that I had was no vision for my future, and it took me until I was 25-years old to go back to college. I was terrified when I started back and felt like I stood out because I was older than most of my classmates. I was terrified I didn’t know enough, that I would fail, but by then I knew that I would earn a degree and get a job that would help support a family. I knew I didn’t want to have to do the hard work of waiting tables, or cleaning other people’s offices, for little money, and for the rest of my life.  I also wanted to set an example for my kids, if I could. So I did what you’re doing right now, commencing, beginning.

So, what’s next? What does your next beginning look like? Where will the vision that brought you to this day take you next? You’ve proven to yourselves, and to those that love you, what you’re capable of and speaking from experience, what you’ve done so far is the hardest step you’ll take, because you’re now on the path, you’ve graduated, and there are people here, your family and friends, and the good people at Danville Community College, who want to see you take and succeed in the next steps on the journey. Take a moment today to thank those around you who made your success here today possible. None of us could have done what we’ve done without support from others. Celebrate your successes and take the next step. Don’t stop fighting for your future. Congratulations, graduates.

Commence means begin.

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