Gila Community College reveled in its biggest graduation ceremony ever, with a flurry of admonitions from the speakers to persevere — and care for others.
Turns out that was great advice for this group — dominated by nurses.
The 18 graduates included 13 beaming women who had earned their Associate of Applied Science in nursing — plus two generations of scholars from the same family.
Honors graduate Tracy Turner was one of those speakers, with her honor students son and daughter grinning in the audience.
“As my children became full-time college students, I felt my own life changing. I’d started college many times and had never finished, but now I knew it was time. This is a very good school, Payson is blessed to have it. And this is a great day — even at 53, I congratulate every one of you for staying the course. No one can tell you can’t do it because you already have.”
The college staged the ceremony at the Church of the Nazarene on Tyler Parkway, which bulged with some 200 happy friends and family, gathered to celebrate an accomplishment often against long odds.
State Senate President Pro Tem Sylvia Allen, who represents Rim Country and struggled in the just-concluded session to carry through two bills that will shape the future of the college, urged the graduates to serve others.
“Use the talents you have received and help the unloved and forgotten and make America a better place,” she urged the graduates.
Joseph Shannon, representing the faculty, said community college students deserve special appreciation, because they often face a long, fierce struggle to win their degree. Many work full-time while they’re in school and many are the first college graduates in the history of their family — a fact many of the listening graduates confirmed with a show of hands.
Shannon said community college students represent nearly half of the 28 million taking college classes in the country. Some 60 percent of community college graduates are women and 21 percent work full time while they’re in college.
“These are uncommon graduates and they deserve your respect,” he concluded.
Phil McBride, dean of instruction at Eastern Arizona College, which provides the accreditation for GCC, said “this is a new beginning in your life.”
The single greatest predictor of whether a child will go to college remains whether one of the parents has a degree. As a result, the degree earned by a first-generation college student can echo through generations to come.
McBride recalled a camping trip involving a 50-mile hike with a blind companion, who made his way along the trail by grasping a staff held between McBride and a friend. The three lagged behind the larger group, and through a succession of decisions and near misses, became separated for two nights.
They ultimately found the group, as the search and rescue teams closed in. He invoked the ordeal as a lesson in the way in which the choices we make in life cascade into consequence and the essential role of persistence and courage in coping with those consequences.
“Every choice we make has a consequence,” he said, holding aloft the hiking staff that carried them through that journey. Sometimes, you’re going to get blamed for something that’s not your fault. Sometimes, you’re going to be with a group of people who want you to bend in your beliefs. But I dare you to go where the ground is rough and the path is unclear. I dare you to have the courage to be a leader.”