A Different Kind of Commencement Celebrity at Our College

People who achieve incredible feats, overcome great obstacles, and/or succeed against great odds inspire and encourage us. Precious few reach the headlines. We honor them with invitations to inspire others as, for example, speakers at graduation ceremonies. At our school, we look to a different kind of celebrity for this honor…

GUEST VIEWPOINT (Eugene Register-Guard): “At LCC’s graduation, students are the stars”

BY PHYLLIS NISSILA

It’s exciting when famous people come to speak at graduation ceremonies. We hold these celebrated people in high esteem and respect them for their accomplishments. They often inspire students to do their best and reach for what may seem like impossible goals.

However, in the years I have been attending Lane Community College’s graduation ceremonies, I have come to hold in high esteem and respect another kind of graduation speaker.

Each year one of LCC’s own “student celebrities” is selected for the honor of speaking at our commencement ceremonies because of his or her accomplishments, “student ethic” and inspiring story.

We have many student celebrities. The opportunity to hear about what one such person, right in our midst, has done to overcome both ordinary and extraordinary obstacles to achieve an educational goal is as inspiring as any media celebrity’s story.

I am sure those charged with making the selection have a difficult task. As just one Lane instructor among many, I know I would have a hard time narrowing the choice down to just one student.

From former citizenship classes, for example, two students come immediately to mind. “Maria” escaped her homeland in the middle of the night, literally with only the clothes on her back. She traveled hundreds of miles and worked her way through difficult paperwork and long lines to finally achieve the goal of citizenship in a land where she would never again have to witness the murder of her neighbors in the street in front of her home because they protested a despotic government.

“Vanya” left an Eastern European country where to work in a good-paying job he had to profess allegiance to a repressive regime he loathed. He gave it all up to bring his family to a land where he didn’t have to watch his every word and fear for his family’s future.

From writing classes, I think of veterans like “Bill” who wrote about the day he just happened to be sitting in the middle seat of the Humvee when an improvised explosive device blew up in front of his crew on a dusty road in Iraq and took the lives of his buddies on either side. Still working through flashbacks, nightmares and medical issues, he managed to maintain an above-average grade, a family and a job.

Another kind of veteran, this one a veteran of the streets, wrote about the day his gang member friend got shot — that was the day he realized the dubious fame of gang life was not for him. He made the dangerous choice of “jumping out” of the gang, then moved to another state to get on with his education and provide a safer life for his family.

From all of my classes, there are many more inspiring stories from single moms and dads, displaced workers of all ages, grandparents, homeless students, and other students in the non-traditional student demographic of a community college.

Each term, I know I look into the faces of some students who have overcome incredible odds or who are still working through them. Each term I am inspired by their stories, their determination to make a better life for themselves and their families. I am inspired by their courage.

The value of inviting internationally recognized celebrities to speak at graduation ceremonies notwithstanding, we are fortunate at Lane Community College to have so many student celebrities who share their inspiring and encouraging stories with us as our honored speakers.

Published June 19th here: http://www.registerguard.com/web/opinion/28251986-47/students-graduation-student-celebrities-ceremonies.html.csp

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