Earlier this month on a single day I participated in two celebratory events…a GED/HSED graduation ceremony at the Oshkosh Correctional Institution (OSCI) and a Phi Theta Kappa honor society induction at our Appleton Campus. I couldn’t help but think about the interesting juxtaposition of these two events on the same day and how they were similar, yet very different. At OSCI, just over 80 inmates had recently completed their GED/HSED or a skills training certification in areas such as food service, horticulture, Braille transcription, or computer fundamentals. Phi Theta Kappa is an organization for students with high academic standing who are interested in leadership and service opportunities, an honor society pursued by many of our top students.
While the settings, situations, and specifics of these two celebrations were certainly very different, here I’d like to focus on the similarities. For these students of all ages, whether completing a GED or food service certificate, or earning a 4.0 GPA and holding a student leadership role on campus, the look of accomplishment on their faces was very much the same. The expression of pride by family and friends also looked much alike. And in hearing the words of these students, one could sense a feeling of hope for their futures, a readiness for the next challenge or next steps, and a growing confidence in the ability to pursue new opportunities. Hope, promise, confidence, opportunity.
Instructors and advisors—staff members who really care about making a difference—were clearly another key ingredient in these student success stories. And they were present at each of these events to share in the celebrations. Their stories of the enormous challenges some students faced and overcame, and in other cases helping them find their passions for work and life, were also very inspiring.
Of the parents and other family members I spoke with that day, the common theme was gratitude: gratitude for the educational opportunities offered by FVTC and for delivering these learning experiences in a way that finally resonated with these individuals, often well into adulthood (and most often conveyed as “learning by doing” or “applied learning”).
Every now and then we need to recall some of our own educational accomplishments, no matter how big or small, and remember what that felt like or meant to us. Most often, these are very attainable goals if students persist and put in the work that it takes to reach their educational goals. There is no doubt in my mind that our work as educators is critically important and life-changing for our students at every level of the educational spectrum. All you have to do is observe the impact it has on students and families. Have you seen what I’ve seen? Perhaps you have a story to tell along these lines.