JCJC graduates learn the importance of succeeding from PTK Executive Director

Written By: Kelly Atwood
Email Address: teresa.martin@jcjc.edu
Date Submitted: 2011-05-12 16:02:50

ELLISVILLE - A college graduate has been changed forever and in turn must change the lives of those around him or her. That was the inspirational message given to 700 graduation candidates by Dr. Rod Risley, keynote speaker at Jones County Junior College’s spring commencement ceremonies May 11.
Before Risley’s introduction, Jones President Dr. Jesse Smith said that this year, which is the college’s 100th year, the college saw a record enrollment and a record number of college completers. Both Smith and Risley agree that these growing numbers are vital to the nation’s future.
Risley, the executive director of the two-year international honor society Phi Theta Kappa, created the C4 project or Community College Completion Challenge, that’s purpose is to evoke, “A sea of change in philosophy (which) is needed in our community colleges in order to meet the lofty goals of doubling the number of completers by 2020….This is a call to action to our community colleges, and our nation’s economic prosperity and democracy are hanging in the balance.” 
In addressing the graduation candidates, Risley used the story of the Underground Railroad’s Harriett Tubman. As Tubman crossed the line to freedom, “she held out her hands to see if she was still the same. She saw glory on everything. Have you ever had one of those moments when everything changed? When you were no longer the same?” he asked.
 “You see things differently. You feel differently, you’re no longer the same,” he said, explaining that graduates must reflect that this is that moment for them. They have new confidence, new hopes and dreams.
Risley explained that our nation depends on college graduates now more than ever, citing that the United States has fallen from number one to number 12 in the number of citizens who’ve earned a higher education degree. Based on these statistics, “it’s simply not possible for us to compete on a global scale,” he said, pointing out that without educated and specialized graduates, the country can’t compete or sustain itself economically.
To become competitive, Risley explained, “We have to double the number of graduates and certificate earners by 2020. That’s 5 million students. College completion matters.”
Risley explained that a community/junior college degree is a great asset to the college graduates’ future endeavors. In addition to paying only one-third of the cost of college if they’d began at a university, an associate degree promises financial opportunities.
“Those earning an associate degree will earn up to $400,000 more over their lifetime than those without a degree,” he said. “For decades, community colleges have fought for legitimacy. Our time has come. The Ivy League schools are now aggressively recruiting our community college (graduates and transfers).”
Risley warned graduates that there are strings attached to their success.   “Scholarship is of worth when it’s productive. A true scholar gives. It’s not enough to possess knowledge. You must share what you know so that all may know.”
He explained that while graduation is a celebration of hopes, possibilities and dreams fulfilled, there are many out there who see life filled with despair, distrust and discouragement.
“In this great country we have ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ Students, you’ve been given a tremendous responsibility to improve the quality of life in your community so we may all have a better life and a better future.”
Risley asked the graduates to remember the first day they walked on campus.   “Remember the butterflies, the anxiety, the questioning. Remember that professor who looked you in the eyes and said ‘You can do this. Don’t give up.’ (Remember your family who believed in you.) For the first time, perhaps in a long time, you may have believed in yourself. Remember all those people because you did not walk this journey alone.”
He quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Leave the world a bit better…To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
 Risley finished his talk by referring to Tubman’s experience once again.    “It was a flash of a moment when anything could come true. Embrace Tubman’s experience as your own. You share with her character, courage and determination to succeed. Today, for you, anything is possible.”


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