Stay focused and never give up. Almost 600 CCV students were given that advice on Saturday when the College conferred associate degrees on members of the Class of 2015.
“Life, like so many valuable lessons, will not come easily or without its own set of challenges,” said student speaker Ashlee Brady-Kelly. “There may be times where it would be easier to succumb, than to thrive; to conquer. However I encourage you, no I beg you, please do not give up on yourself and never, never give up on your goals. It is in the most trying times that knowledge is gained and strength earned.”
An estimated 3,000 people attended the event, which was held at Norwich University’s Shapiro Field House in Northfield. Seven Days Multimedia Producer Eva Sollberger and Lt. Gov. Phil Scott spoke to the graduates during the ceremony. Community College of Vermont is the second largest college in the state and Saturday’s graduation was its 48th commencement since the College was founded in 1970.
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Brady-Kelly spoke from a wheelchair which she has been in since undergoing surgery in late May. The 23-year-old Barre-resident and native of Bermuda was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus at a young age which has led to a life filled with surgeries and “medical trauma.”
She told the audience that her academic journey has been “five years of endless nights, tears and more frustrations.” Her first higher education experience at Bermuda College, she said, lacked any sense of community and as such, she suffered personally. When she came to CCV, however, she learned how important community was to student success.
“The orientation was student led and while they were student leaders, it was made clear they were our peers, our allies and lifelines,” Brady-Kelly said. “The faculty here follow suit while maintaining utmost professionalism. They support us. They celebrate our successes and walk beside us through the obstacles and setbacks.”
Brady-Kelly received an Associate of Arts in Liberal Studies and plans to attend Champlain College in the fall.
Sollberger told the graduates about the myriad experiences that led to her current position as the creator and host of the popular video blog “Stuck In Vermont.” She explained how each job, while not glamorous, taught her valuable lessons such as how to interview, shoot and edit video, and meet deadlines.
To learn those lessons and to eventually land her dream job Sollberger said there’s one mantra that has stayed with her since watching the Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
“You know when the rebel forces are trying desperately to destroy the evil Death Star against seemingly insurmountable odds and the good guys are dropping like flies and Gold Five the pilot keeps repeating, ‘Stay on target, stay on target’,” Sollberger said. “And in the end, Luke Skywalker uses the force to hit the target, destroying the Death Star and saving the day! I think about this phrase every week when I’m hitting a deadline.”
Lt. Governor Phil Scott addressed the graduates, explaining the importance of hard work and determination.
“The hard work never really stops, it just gets more routine and that’s ok,” he said. “Never stop trying to do better or do more because then you become complacent and that leads to a dull life.”
As the graduates exited the field house with heads held high and smiling faces they were greeted by friends and family members eager to congratulate them on the completion of their journey. Some will go on to jobs and others to four year schools, but they’ll all carry with them a powerful message on how to find success.
“Don’t be discouraged if it takes a while to find the work that makes your heart sing, the payoff is more than worth the long journey,” Sollberger said. “And always remember this graduation day, it’s proof that you can achieve whatever you set out to do. So congratulations graduates, may you all remain proudly stuck in VT with us and no matter what comes your way, stay on target!”
Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott