Education strengthens our community | Guest View

By Jean Hernandez | Jun 20, 2014
Courtesy of: Edmonds Community College Jean Hernandez, president of Edmonds Community College

At our commencement ceremony tomorrow night, Comcast Arena in Everett will witness the celebration of years of hard work. The audience will be full of parents, spouses, partners, children, grandparents, siblings, friends, and mentors — close to 3,000 supporters — all there to celebrate our graduates' accomplishments.

In all of their shining, colorful regalia — caps, gowns, tassels, honor cords, hoods, tams, and stoles — our graduates and faculty will fill the arena’s floor. And excitement will fill the air.

As the president of a community college, it is my favorite night of the year. Emotions will be high, and the energy will be contagious.

While I deliver my speech, shake our graduates’ hands, and applaud their hard work, I will celebrate and be even more proud of what achieving this milestone — the completion of a degree or certificate — means for their future.

Their graduation means they will command higher salaries and spend less time out of work over the course of their careers. If they are receiving a transfer degree, it means they had an affordable and more supportive start to a Bachelor’s degree.

They will have enjoyed smaller class sizes and more personal attention during their formative college years. Statistically, this means that they will do better at their transfer institutions than their counterparts who started at a four-year institution — only slightly better, but any advantage helps.

For those students studying in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math), it means they used lab equipment and conducted experiments that students at large universities often aren’t able to participate in until they are upperclassmen.

For our community, these degrees mean that our neighbors will earn higher salaries, paying more in future taxes and drawing less from social services.

Education strengthens our community. It bolsters our workforce, our voting public, and our tax base. It is a big win when anyone finishes a certificate or degree — whether it is a high school diploma, a career-training certificate, or a transfer degree. And it really is worth celebrating.

When Comcast Arena erupts in applause, and the graduates turn their tassels tomorrow night, I hope our entire community cheers right along with all of us. In fact, there are plenty of seats in the arena, so please join us in person at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow night. The event is free and open to the public.

Recently, I have read a number of media stories saying that education may be too expensive for the results; however, I believe passionately that education is the best investment people can make in themselves.

I know this from personal experience. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college and hold a doctorate degree. My father had an eighth grade education, and my mother only completed sixth grade. Fortunately for me and my siblings, our parents believed in the power of learning and always encouraged us to apply ourselves.

Because of that, I’m now the president of a community college. It is actually pretty phenomenal what an education can do for someone and what someone with an education can go on to do for themselves, their families, and their communities.

As William Butler Yeats once wrote, "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." I look forward to seeing what the graduates of the class of 2013-14 go on to do with the great start they’ve gotten at Edmonds CC. I know this is just the beginning for them.

Because 81 percent of our students live within eight miles of the college, many of you may have already experienced one of our commencement ceremonies — in the audience or as a graduate. In a typical year, Edmonds and Everett community colleges educate nearly 39,000 students combined — almost the population of the City of Edmonds.

If you haven’t yet experienced one of our commencement ceremonies, I invite you to attend Edmonds CC and achieve your educational dreams. In a year or two, it could be you sitting on the arena floor in all the shiny regalia, excited about the opportunities and doors that your education will open for you. It’s never too late. Our oldest graduate this year is 74 and is receiving an accounting certificate.

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