2015 Big Sandy Commencement Speech

Thank you, Dr. Chrestman. I want to commend you for your contributions to Big Sandy Community and Technical College during your term as interim president. You have worked hard to keep the college on the path of progression, to build relationships in the community and to keep higher education at the forefront of community and economic development.

To you, your board members, faculty, staff, and honored guests….and most especially, graduates and their families …. It is truly an honor to be here this evening to celebrate your hard work and achievements.

I bring you greetings and congratulations from all the colleges of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. You are joining 7,177 graduates who are receiving nearly 14,000 credentials this spring in 15 other KCTCS college ceremonies across the state.

Tonight we are honoring your 503 graduates. They join more than 4,300 students who have graduated from BSCTC since 2004.

The graduates we are celebrating today are a very diverse group in terms of age. They range from 17 to 70!

They come from all walks of life… they’ve overcome obstacles… their goals and professions vary… but tonight they are unified and share one distinct commonality … being called a college graduate.

Many of them are the first in their families to attend college. Since 2008, nearly 20,000 first-generation students have enrolled at Big Sandy.

Twenty of tonight’s graduates are high school seniors from the Floyd County Early College Academy who have earned an associate degree. They are high achievers who’ve been accepted into college programs at the University of Pikeville, University of Kentucky, and right here at Big Sandy. Together, they have earned $1.5 million in scholarships. Let’s give these amazing high school students a round of applause!

And, while we’re celebrating high achievers, let’s talk about this year’s HVAC class. All of these graduates have completed their journeyman certifications, and the majority of them have already landed jobs.

Is that impressive, or what? I think they deserve applause as well.

Accomplishments such as these are the reasons KCTCS exists.

My belief is that everyone who works at the colleges and the System Office has a role to play in helping students fulfill their dreams of completing college and going on to good jobs.

We know life sometimes gets in the way of that, which causes students to doubt they can achieve their dreams. I charged faculty and staff with removing that doubt and becoming our students’ dreamcatchers. It’s evident that this college’s faculty and staff rose to the challenge.

Our mission is to improve the lives and employability of Kentuckians. Here at Big Sandy, you’re making a difference in the lives of students, the region and the state.

So, I must recognize this wonderful faculty and staff for showing the region that Big Sandy Community and Technical College not only talks about its mission, it is living it.

Thank you for all you do to help students achieve their dreams.

I also want to recognize the families of our graduates for supporting them all along the way.

We know parents and spouses serve as cheerleaders, confidantes and counselors … and they pick up the slack when classes and homework get in the way.

These grads couldn’t have done it without you! Thank you for the role you played in their success.

But most of all, I want to congratulate our graduates. I am a community college graduate myself, so I understand the feeling of accomplishment you have tonight.

As the youngest of four boys in my family, my brothers exhausted any chance I had of tuition funded by my parents, so 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.

Many of you will be staying right here in eastern Kentucky, where you will contribute greatly to this community. I challenge you to enhance this beautiful place you call home through your leadership and contributions to the economy.

But more than that, I also want you to consider what new frontiers you want to explore. Just because you’ve completed this part of your journey, doesn’t mean the journey has ended.

There’s much more to learn and do. Many frontiers to explore. Your dreams can change, so you need to be open to new ideas.

When I first enrolled in community college, I thought I would be a high school music teacher and band director. But my advisor pointed me in a different direction. That’s when a new frontier opened for me.

When I think of the phrase “new frontier,” I think of the historic speech President John F. Kennedy delivered at the 1960 Democratic National Convention.

In his speech, Kennedy focused on what he saw as America’s “New Frontier.”

It was a new frontier he described not as a set of promises, but a set of challenges.

I think that same idea can apply to each of you. You came to Big Sandy for the promise of an education … And the new frontier ahead is the challenge. The challenge of what you will do with that education.

President Kennedy said,

“The New Frontier is here whether we seek it or not.

Beyond that frontier are uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered problems of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus.”

Even though those words were spoken more than five decades ago, it still applies to our world today and the frontiers we all face.

We still await great discoveries in science, medicine and technology that you could be a part of in a future career.

When I see all the exciting things happening at this college and in your region, I know you will play a role in the challenges and opportunities before you.

You are the future of this region. You can join with other educated, motivated folks to create the best communities possible … and to find answers to common needs.

Other graduates are already working for companies and industries that are changing the way diseases are treated, changing the vehicles we drive, the technology we use and the utilities we all depend on each day. You can be a part of those changes.

You can choose to be part of positive change for your communities and our world. That starts by looking for the change you want to see, by being a positive example, speaking up and standing up for what is right.

I know so many of our students, and possibly many of you, have faced any number of challenges not only to get to college, but also to stay in college and graduate. And you probably will face more challenges ahead.

That is when you will have to ask yourself what does entering the next frontier mean to you?

I can tell you that your education means a better job, a better paycheck, a better life and more opportunity for the many frontiers ahead.

We know already that an associate degree can increase your potential lifetime earnings by as much as a quarter of a million dollars.

And the dividends only increase as you continue your education.

We know that in the next frontier of our economy, jobs requiring a college credential are increasing. By 2020, that number is expected to increase by nearly 30 percent in Kentucky. So you are already ahead of the game.

As leaders in your communities, I challenge you to encourage others to also chart their course for a new frontier. Encourage them to attend and complete college. Show them this not just a beginning… but an ongoing journey to success and prosperity. Help them fulfill their dreams.

You, too, can become a dreamcatcher for friends, family and members of this community. You just have to be willing to accept the challenge.

I wish each of you continued success … and for the courage to forge your own new frontier… but most importantly, to never stop learning.

Thank you very much.


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