Yes, Southern State changes lives


By Gary Abernathy - Contributing columnist



I covered the GED graduation ceremony last week at Southern State Community College because I was interested in hearing what Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings would say, since he is also a GED recipient and I knew he could relate to the people who, for whatever reason, had not completed high school in the traditional sense.

Drew’s remarks were personal and moving, and you could tell he had a real affinity for those who have followed a similarly unconventional path.

But what I came away with most from last Thursday’s ceremony was an appreciation for how moving the event was for the families of those individuals who had gone back to obtain their general equivalency diplomas.

I have attended other SSCC graduation ceremonies, including those for general degrees and also the school’s highly-regarded nursing program. The families in attendance are usually quite similar to those who attended the GED ceremony.

By nature, community colleges in general cater to “non-traditional” students as much or more as to those who go to college straight out of high school. Community colleges offer a second chance, a reboot for people who had their plans derailed for one reason or another.

Maybe they ended up on a troubled path for a while and dropped out of school. Maybe they had children too soon. Maybe they had to care for a sick family member. Maybe they just weren’t mature enough yet to devote themselves to the discipline and study necessary to achieve passing grades in high school.

There are a multitude of reasons that people sometimes veer from the expected and beaten path. But then the day comes when they examine their lives, perhaps look into their children’s eyes, and say to themselves, “I’m going to get my act together and make something of myself.”

Kevin Boys, the SSCC president, said to the audience Thursday that the GED ceremony each year was his favorite of all the graduation ceremonies he attends. He said it was a secret and asked them not to tell anyone, but since he said it to a few hundred people on hand, I shared his secret in my story. Sorry Kevin!

I suspect that he and those who are directly connected to the program have witnessed practically miraculous stories of people turning their lives around and recommitting themselves to acquiring the tools necessary to give themselves a leg up in life.

Drew made several pertinent comments during his remarks, but the one I liked the most was when he cautioned people not to settle for just anything. He said that friends would likely suggest a job where they work because “they have an opening” there.

Too often, warned the mayor, that opening is just a giant hole, something that will trap you forever in a dead end job. Drew encouraged everyone to pursue their real dreams.

It was fun to listen to the assembled families cheer raucously for their wives or husbands or sons or daughters or friends or neighbors as they received their diplomas. The crowd chuckled when one little girl, no older than 4, shouted excitedly, “Go Mommy! Go Mommy!” as her mother proudly accepted her diploma. It was an indication that this journey had been a shared one among everyone in the household.

As with all institutions that have been around a while, it’s easy to take Southern State Community College for granted. That’s a mistake. SSCC has helped thousands of local people start a new journey toward a better life, and provided most people with the ability to do so right outside their door. Two of my children have taken advantage of the educational opportunities Southern State has to offer, along with other relatives.

With convenient campus locations serving the people of Highland, Adams, Brown, Clinton and Fayette counties, and through its own various programs as well as those that can be accessed at SSCC through agreements with four-year institutions, Southern State is a blessing for people who otherwise would find it too difficult to travel elsewhere to pursue their goals. It also works with local high schools on a program that allows students to obtain an Associates Degree by the time they finish high school.

Southern State began its existence in 1975 as Southern State General and Technical College. In 1977, it transitioned to the name we know today. Its first president was Dr. Lewis Miller, who served from 1975-88. He was followed by Dr. George McCormick (1989-94), Dr. Lawrence Dukes (1995-2007, Dr. Sherry Stout (2007-09) and then – yes, he’s a doctor too – Dr. Kevin Boys, 2010 to no end in sight.

In his welcome message on the SSCC website, Kevin says, “Whatever your circumstances, Southern State has a long history of introducing students just like you to a college education and seeing changed lives at the other end.”

He also points out that there are other services available at SSCC, including employment opportunities, customized training for local employers, and a variety of cultural events held regularly at the college. The Southern State facilities have been a convenient and accessible (and first class) place where many different programs from many different local and area organizations are held throughout each year, including The Times-Gazette’s own Salt Homemakers Show each spring.

Like many of you, it seems like I find myself at Southern State two or three times a month for one thing or another going on there.

Last week’s Adult Opportunity Center ceremony honoring GED recipients reminded me of just how important SSCC is to our community in ways that are easy to take for granted. Sometimes it’s important to remind ourselves to appreciate what we have.

I’m glad we have Southern State Community College, and I saw a lot of happy graduates, families and children express that same appreciation last week.

Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or by email at gabernathy@civitasmedia.com.

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By Gary Abernathy

Contributing columnist