There’s nervousness. Pride. Joy. Anxiety. It’s like riding a big, rollercoaster of emotion and you’re just shy of the final loop-d-loop.
“I’m so content right now, things feel really good,” said Olivia Smith-Hammond. “I’m nervous, but I’m really trying to work on not fretting about the unknowns.”
Smith-Hammond is just a few days away from graduating. By Saturday evening, she and hundreds of her peers will no longer be CCV students. Some of them know where they’ll be heading next, others, not so much. For Smith-Hammond, she’s not too concerned.
“In terms of finding a job, I have things in the works,” she said. “I feel pretty confident that I will find an employment situation that works for me and who I am.”
Smith-Hammond’s path to an associates degree in human services has taken seven years to complete. It’s quite an accomplishment for the 27-year-old Vermont native who’s worked part-time on and off while attending classes, served on multiple boards of nonprofits, and who manages the day-to-day challenges of living with a brain injury she sustained at birth. And she’s not just graduating, either.
On Saturday, Smith-Hammond will deliver the student address to an estimated audience of three thousand at the College’s 47th commencement ceremony. It’s an honor and a challenge, she said, and an opportunity for her to share some of what she’s learned and to acknowledge what she’s gained in her time at CCV.
“I feel like the relationships I’ve developed with my professors are invaluable,” she said. They’re just so willing to help you and they really recognize who you are as a person, and I think they’re able to do that because of the small class size.”
Looking beyond Saturday, Smith-Hammond said she plans to work in the field of disability advocacy with a Vermont nonprofit. In other words, her ultimate goal is to help people, much like the others who’ll be honored at the ceremony, and much like this year’s commencement speaker, Stuart Comstock-Gay.
As the president and CEO of the Vermont Community Foundation (VCF), Comstock-Gay spends many of his days overseeing one of the state’s largest philanthropic organizations. VCF’s work is felt all around the Green Mountain State. Education, agriculture, and veterans issues are a few of the causes Comstock-Gay’s foundation supports, and in reality, very few Vermonters are not affected in some way by the VCF.
Listen to Melanie Meyer Speak on Service Learning at CCV
This year’s community service award recipients will also be recognized on Saturday for the positive impact they’ve had on the state and their communities. Steve Costello, Green Mountain Power’s (GMP) vice president for generation and energy innovation will be honored for his work strengthening the Rutland area through organized events and the development of GMP’s Energy and Innovation Center. Faculty member Melanie Meyer will be recognized for the numerous hunger and nutrition-related service learning projects she’s incorporated into her classes. And students Aline Mukeshimana and Michael Washington will both receive awards for their service to others.
But it doesn’t end with those being officially honored. Down through the ranks of CCV’s Class of 2014 are peer tutors, food drive organizers, community rain garden builders and just about every other good-deed doer you can think of. Forty-one veterans and seventeen military-connected students will walk on Saturday. The class, which is one of the largest to graduate from CCV, represents every county in the state, ten states in the nation, and fifteen countries of the world.
Innocent Mpoki is one of those students representing a foreign nation. Mpoki was born in Zimbabwe and raised in the rural village of Mupagamuri. As a boy, he walked three miles each way to primary school, and 18 miles round trip to secondary school. He did this because he wanted to learn, but when it came to college, the opportunities in Zimbabwe just weren’t there given his social status.Fortunately, with the help and support of the Zienzele Foundation Mpoki was able to take his university entrance exams and then travel here to study on a visa. He arrived in 2012, began his college career at Lebanon College, and then transferred into CCV. He’ll graduate on Saturday with a degree in liberal studies.
“This was one of my goals in high school, I wanted to go to college,” Mpoki said. “I feel the more you are educated, the more you can get better chances for jobs and a good life. And as the first born in my family, I feel like I need to have as much education as I can.”
Mpoki has plans to finish his college education and return home to take care of his family. That’s a ways off for the 23 year old, though. Come fall, Mpoki will be attending Middlebury College on a scholarship, where he hopes to study biology. He’s leaning towards the sciences because he feels this will prepare him best for medical school, which will ultimately set him up for a stable career back in Zimbabwe. Aside from this, he has a couple other goals he’s striving for.
“One thing I would like to do is help another student,” Mpoki said. “I’ve been hearing about the Zienzele Foundation for fourteen years, so if I am successful one day in life, I think I will do the same thing for somebody else. And of course, I will get my family out of poverty.”
For right now though, he’s still focused on what’s going to happen on Saturday and he’s enjoying the idea of becoming a college graduate.
“For me it is a huge accomplishment given where I came from two years ago,” he said, noting he’s the first person from his village to attend college. “I’m very happy.”
And for both Mpoki and Smith-Hammond, CCV has given them exactly what they needed to achieve the goal. For Mpoki, it’s been a rigorous academic program and personalized support to ensure he’d find success. For this year’s student speaker, it’s been much the same.
“It’s been a good home for me to be at,” Smith-Hammond said. “I think I really learned how to manage who I am as a learner and as a person, and how to manage the differences and challenges I’m experiencing in life, and CCV has had a lot to do with that.”