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ON WEDNESDAY night, Nicole Reid and Siaoni Jackson, both 20, experienced a rite of passage they thought they'd given up when they dropped out of high school.

Earlier in the day, they got their hair done, their makeup just right, and then slipped into striking, matching champagne-colored dresses they had fretted over for weeks before ... the Big Night.

Prom night.

So what if they weren't graduating from the high school they once attended. So what if they had a lot more on their plates as single mothers than typical high school graduates. So what if they were pulling a straight-up Cinderella fairy tale on this weeknight, on borrowed time while relatives cared for their children.

Tonight was prom - and for a few blissful hours, they were going to savor every moment of it.

"I am ready to dance," Jackson declared, eyeing the empty dance floor at the Ethical Society.

Here's the thing about second chances: Wonderfully redemptive as they are, sometimes you miss out on milestones that come with doing things the first time around.

For instance, you drop out of high school but eventually get your GED, you might get a graduation ceremony, but chances are there's no prom.

That's how it was at the JEVS Human Services E3 program that helps 16- to 21-year-olds get their GEDs.

But this year, students decided a prom was in order, and the program set them up with free dresses and suits, for anyone who wanted them, free hair styling and makeup the day of the prom, and boutonnieres and corsages.

And why not? There should be a celebration of all these students have accomplished, all the obstacles they have overcome.

Consider some of the stats from the program: Almost 80 percent of E3 members have reading and math levels below ninth-grade level, 58 percent have been involved in the court system, 36 percent are pregnant or are already parents, and more than half of participants experience some level of homelessness at some point during their enrollment.

Reid, who lives in North Philly, and Jackson, who lives in West Philly, were both once homeless. Reid was living in a shelter with her children when she started the program. Jackson ended up in one when her house caught on fire one winter night last year.

When things got tough, they turned to each other, even if it meant middle-of-the-night pep talks.

"There were times I was on the phone with her at 3 in the morning, saying, 'Yo, stop crying. We gotta go to school tomorrow, you gotta get up in a couple of hours,' " Jackson said.

Reid told Jackson about the program. And ever since, they've leaned on one another, two young mothers who want more for themselves and their children.

"I had to do this for my kids," said Reid. "I couldn't keep going in the same circle I was going in. I don't want them to be like me. I want them to be better than me, to get a good education, stay on track and stay on focus. I want them to get further than me."

Both women are now at Community College of Philadelphia, with big dreams of careers in psychiatry and social work.

But Wednesday, those plans took a backseat to a rare night off. Many of the participants went together. At one table were Reid and Jackson, who adorably call themselves Peanut Butter and Jelly. At another table, there were friends Lance Dunn and Dayanara Laboy, who stuck out the program together and now were celebrating together.

What better way to celebrate than with the people you shared such a life-changing experience with?

Confession: I never went to prom. I never really got what all the fuss was about. But that may be because I went to three different high schools, and the one guy who threw me a pity ask was vetoed by my father.

But standing there, among the 60 or so students giddily complimenting each other on their pretty dresses and sharp suits, I could see the appeal - especially for students who worked so hard to get there.

Deesha Dyer Community College of PhiladelphiaDeesha Dyer Community College of Philadelphia

Deesha Dyer’s extraordinary journey took her from Community College of Philadelphia to the career of her dreams in the White House.

Last week, Dyer made a triumphant return to Philadelphia, where she delivered the College’s commencement address as special assistant to the president and social secretary of the White House.

All of this, from a young woman who at one time thought she could get by without a degree and dropped out of college.

Her story of resilience and dogged perseverance resonated deeply with the College’s candidates for graduation, many of whom overcame many obstacles to earn their degrees. After the ceremony, one graduate tweeted, “Deesha Dyer, you were truly the best commencement speaker I’ve ever heard. So glad CCP invited you.”

Dyer told students she tried many occupations during her time away from school – working as a secretary, a hip hop journalist and serving as a volunteer.

But while mentoring young girls in Philadelphia, Dyer couldn’t help feeling “like a hypocrite, stressing to them that they needed to go to college, no matter what,” she said, when she had no degree herself.

“I would be very honest and tell them that because of their gender, race, and economic class, things may not be easy for them,” Dyer said. “I told them this because things weren’t easy for me. I didn't want the stigma of not having an education to hang over their heads. I didn't want them to be told they weren't qualified for promotions or a job because of their lack of a degree. I didn't want them to feel ‘less than.’”

She decided to re-enroll in college. It wasn’t easy because she had to prepare to take college-level courses and was placed in pre-college math.

“Some days you wanted to give up. Some days turned in to a series of days, and graduating college seemed like an impossible task. Well, you defeated those days. You rose above them and you are here. I am here, we are here!” she told more than 1, 000 candidates for graduation in attendance, which included candidates who had earned Associate in Arts, Associate in Applied Science and Associate in Science degrees, as well as those who completed certificate programs.

In 2008, Dyer found herself swept up in the hope and change movement personified by a dashing U.S. Senator named Barack Obama, who was running for president. She applied for a White internship, skeptical that a 29-year-old community college student would have a shot. To her surprise, she got it.

Back home in Philly after her internship, she received the email that changed her life. Would she be interested in coming to work at the White House? “Of course I was!” Dyer said.

She recalled being fearful that senior officials wouldn’t hire her when they learned she didn’t have a degree. To her surprise, she was offered the job with the caveat that she would finish school. Dyer spent

five years completing her degree in Women’s Studies. For two of those years, she took online classes while working for the White House.

Although she wears many titles proudly, Dyer is exceedingly proud of her distinction as a Community College of Philadelphia alumna. Happy to be home and falling into the local jargon, the West Philadelphia native described herself as “just another ‘jawn’ from Philly”(“jawn,” i.e. person, place or thing) who cruised past societal limits and kept going.

She urged graduates to “stand proud in who you are as a Community College of Philadelphia graduate. Know that you will meet people who will make you feel as if you have not earned your degree — as if your degree is worth less than others; but you have earned it. It is something that no one can take away from you.”

Forty-nine Community College of Philadelphia employees who have a combined 785 years of service were honored last week during the 32nd Annual Classified/Confidential Employee Luncheon in the Great Hall.

More than 250 employees celebrated their colleagues and friends for their continued dedication to the College and its students. Amidst a festive atmosphere filled with balloons and music, employees who had accumulated five years of service up to 40 years were recognized with applause, certificates, a lunch buffet and a special thank you from President Donald Guy Generals.

“This is my favorite event aside from graduation,” Dr. Generals said. “It’s an opportunity to say thank you to all of you who work in this space where the rubber hits the road, where the aspirations of the college are able to move forward, and our students are served in ways that enable them to be successful.”

His sentiments were echoed by the College’s Board of Trustees Vice Chair Suzanne Biemiller, who also offered heartfelt thanks to the honorees.

Linda Guertin, the College’s sole 40- year veteran listed among the ranks of classified/confident employees, received special recognition. Guertin, who serves as a cataloger in the College’s library, said the reason for her longevity is simple: “I love what I do here.”

Events such as the luncheon “bring a sense of community,” Guertin added. “I have a lot of friends here and they are all at this table. I’ve known them for years and they’re like my second family.”

Guertin’s feelings reiterated Dr. Generals’ view regarding why so many employees enjoy long tenures at Community College of Philadelphia.

“It’s a great institution to work for,” he said. “If you’re looking to do important work, make a change in the community and add value to your life, this is the place to be.”

Contact: Linda Wallace, 215-751-8082, liswallace@ccp.edu
Annette John-Hall, 215-751-8021, anhall@ccp.edu


PHILADELPHIA, PA, April 25 --- Goldman Sachs Gives has announced a $100,000 matching gift to Community College of Philadelphia’s 50th Anniversary Scholars Program, which allows qualified incoming Philadelphia high school students to attend the College at no cost for tuition and fees.

The $100,000 gift will go toward the 50th Anniversary Scholars Program endowment. Goldman Sachs Gives matched $100,000 raised by the Community College of Philadelphia Foundation, $47,000 of which was contributed by small business alumni of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. These small business owners have heeded the call to fund tuition- free community college models nationwide, and have stepped forward to lead the effort.

In the Greater Philadelphia region, Community College of Philadelphia leads the 10,000 Small Businesses program, which teaches entrepreneurs timely strategies for managing and growing successful businesses. To date, 251 small business owners have gone through the program, with a 10th cohort comprised of 27 businesspeople set to graduate in August.

The entrepreneurs who donated said they were looking for a way to give back to the College and to Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses program, which had given them a lasting support network and invaluable tools to grow their businesses.

Included in that group is Pete Windle, President of Philadelphia-based Windle Mechanical Solutions, Inc. Windle and his fellow entrepreneurs from cohort 1 had already begun a modest funding effort, and were further motivated when the Goldman Sachs Gives opportunity presented itself.

“Certainly 10,000 Small Businesses was a huge gift for me. It’s really changed the way I looked at business and myself,” Windle said. “I would go to class, get out of my nice, luxury vehicle, see Community College of Philadelphia students and I knew some of them struggled. So when the opportunity to donate came (from Goldman Sachs Gives) I thought, ‘We have to help these kids if we can.’”

Other contributing members of 10,000 Small Businesses included Kristin Smith, CEO of Smith Flooring, Inc. in Chester, an alumna of Community College of Philadelphia; and Emily Morgan owner of Delegate Solutions, Inc.

“I was a teenaged mom,” said Smith, a classmate of Windle in cohort 1. “I had received my acceptance letter to Howard University but then I discovered I was pregnant, so I wound up at Community College of Philadelphia. Those years at the College gave me my college foundation. I wanted to give something back to the institution that had done so much to help me.”

Morgan, of cohort 3, was similarly moved to give.

“I was given an opportunity. Now I can give someone else an opportunity, she said.

Community College of Philadelphia was one of nine community colleges selected to receive grants from the Goldman Sachs Gives Community College Fund. Goldman Sachs Gives will distribute $1 million to community colleges throughout the country and is being matched 1:1 by donors in their respective communities.

All of the small businesses owners who made contributions were graduates of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program. As their businesses prepare for growth, these entrepreneurs have only scratched the surface in investing in the vitality of the future workforce. To donate to the 50th Anniversary Scholars Program, visit: http://www.ccp.edu/alumni-friends/why-support-college/ways-give



About Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses

Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses is an investment to help entrepreneurs create jobs and economic opportunity by providing greater access to education, capital and business support services. The program is based on the broadly held view of leading experts that greater access to this combination of education, capital and support services best addresses barriers to growth for small businesses. More at www.10ksbapply.com or on Twitter @gs10ksmallbiz.

About Community College of Philadelphia

Community College of Philadelphia is the largest public institution of higher education in Philadelphia and the sixth largest in Pennsylvania. The College enrolls approximately 34,000 students annually and offers day, evening, and weekend classes, as well as classes online. Visit the College at www.ccp.edu. Follow us on Twitter. Like us on Facebook.

Community College of Philadelphia recognizes Goldman Sachs Gives as part of its “Learning Without Limits” campaign, which spotlights individuals and corporations that provide timely, financial support to dedicated students working to complete their studies.

Contact: Linda Wallace, 215-751-8082, liswallace@ccp.edu
Annette John-Hall, 215-751-8021, anhall@ccp.edu

PHILADELPHIA, April 27, 2016— Deesha Dyer will serve as Community College of Philadelphia’s 2016 Commencement Speaker.

Graduation begins at 10 a.m. on May 7 at Temple University’s Liacouras Center, 1776 North Broad Street. This year, the College has 2,056 candidates for graduation. Among them are 58 veterans, 14 international students representing eight countries, five employees of the College and a record-high 29 members from The Center for Male Engagement, an on-campus organization geared toward African American males designed to enhance skills, cultivate a sense of belonging and build resolve. Among CME’s graduates is Muriyd Fuller, a Liberal Arts Honors Option major who is headed to the University of Pennsylvania to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy.

Dyer was unable to join her fellow graduates at Community College of Philadelphia’s 2012 commencement. She had good reason, however, as she was working at the White House and traveling with President Barack Obama. She finished her degree while still in Washington, DC, completing her final classes online. Four years later, as the White House Social Secretary, she will return to Philadelphia to serve as the commencement speaker.

“I’m very honored to have the chance to come back home and speak at my alma mater,” Dyer said. “Without Community College of Philadelphia, I would have never made it to the White House. I hope my journey from Community College of Philadelphia to the White House will inspire the graduates to continue to pursue their dreams and use their degrees to better their communities.”

Thomas Duliban, a 20-year-old Liberal Arts Honors Option major, will serve as student speaker. He enrolled at Community College of Philadelphia seeking a fresh start after what he describes as an undistinguished career in high school, where he took developmental classes. “The College judged me for who I am now, not for who I was,” he said.

Duliban said he received the proper combination of support and rigor, allowing him to blossom academically. During his tenure at the College, Duliban studied abroad in Japan, and held several

leadership positions at the College, including Vice President of Public Relations for Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for two-year colleges; Student Representative for the Liberal Arts Curriculum Committee and Orientation. He was a recipient for the Charitas Foundation Scholarship, and is a semifinalist for the Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which provides up to $40,000 a year to selected students. He hopes to transfer to New York University, Temple University, Fordham University or Swarthmore College next year.


Dyer was raised in both Philadelphia and Hershey, where she attended the Milton Hershey School. She started at the White House in 2009, at the age of 31, after applying for an internship in the Office of Scheduling and Advance. She was hired full time in 2010 as the Associate Director for Scheduling Correspondence, and moved on to become the Deputy Director and Hotel Program Director in 2011. In that role, Dyer traveled with the President and First Lady working on press, lodging and site logistics. She was promoted to Deputy Director and Deputy Social Secretary in 2013. Dyer is currently Special Assistant to the President and White House Social Secretary.

As many Community College of Philadelphia graduates do, Dyer has also maintained a long-standing commitment to community advocacy in several capacities, including her role working with young adults at the Youth Health Empowerment Project, as creator of a hip-hop AIDS program based in Philadelphia, as a CARE advocacy volunteer and as a board member at Action AIDS. She currently volunteers with the homeless community in Alexandria, VA, and mentors young girls for a global empowerment program in Philadelphia. She also serves as a mentor in the First Lady’s mentee program.



Community College of Philadelphia is the largest public institution of higher education in Philadelphia and the sixth largest in Pennsylvania. The College enrolls approximately 34,000 students annually and offers day, evening, and weekend classes, as well as classes online. Visit the College at www.ccp.edu. Follow us on Twitter. Like us on Facebook.

Deesha Dyer got the internship that led to her current job as social secretary of the White House and special assistant to the president when she was a student at the Community College of Philadelphia.

In fact, the White House offered Dyer a full-time job while she was still in school “with the caveat that I finish school,” Dyer told community college graduates Saturday when she served as commencement speaker.

“They asked me to send my resume, and I was very scared because I thought that once senior officials saw I dropped (out) of college, and was a 31-year-old community college student, they definitely wouldn’t hire me,” she said, according to a copy of her speech. “Well in 2010, they did…Two years after working in the White House and taking online CCP classes… I finished in 2012 with an associate’s in women’s studies.”

Dyer, a Philadelphia native, has declined press interviews, but her speech offered a glimpse into the life of the White House’s chief social planner.

“The President and First Lady believe in opening the White House to everyone,” said Dyer, whose family attended the ceremony. “My awesome team is responsible for planning, coordination and execution of all the social events at the White House.

“This includes musical events like the recent concerts with Usher, Aretha Franklin and Sting; to visits with foreign leaders, the Pope.”

She also told graduates about the first time she flew on Air Force One.

“The president turned the corner to where I was sitting just as I put a paper napkin with the presidential seal in my purse,” she said, drawing laughs.

Dyer was raised in Philadelphia and attended the Milton Hershey School. After graduation, she went to the University of Cincinnati, but dropped out after two semesters.

She worked various jobs as a secretary and freelance hip-hop journalist and began mentoring young girls in Philadelphia.

“I always felt like a hypocrite stressing to them that they needed to go to college - no matter what,” she told the crowd.

So she enrolled at community college, part-time. She interned at the White House in 2009 and began working there full time in 2010. When she received the promotion to her current position last spring, President Obama said in a statement: “Deesha shares our commitment to a White House that reflects America’s history, highlights our culture, and celebrates all Americans. Michelle and I look forward to working with her in this new role as we welcome visitors from across the country and around the world to the People’s House.”

Dyer said Michelle Obama became her role model and that she does a fitness routine with her. Michelle Obama also issued a glowing statement about Dyer when she was promoted.

“From the day Deesha started in the Social Office nearly two years ago, she impressed me with her passion, creativity, public-mindedness and relentless competence. Since then, whether helping flawlessly execute state dinners, or going the extra mile to open the White House to people who never dreamed they would walk through these doors, Deesha has worked tirelessly to truly make the White House the "People's House." I am thrilled that she has agreed to continue her service as our Social Secretary."

Dyer credited the community college for contributing to her success.

“Without my CCP experience, I can honestly say that there would not be Deesha Dyer, the White House Social Secretary.”

Michael O'Rourke has worked as a dishwasher, a county solicitor, a taxi driver, a volunteer tutor for prison inmates and a bureaucrat.

When he was asked to take a job as interim manager for Hanover Borough last month, an old, familiar thought popped into his mind

"Well that sounds like it could be interesting."

It's the mantra that has often guided major life decisions for Hanover's newest administrator.

O'Rourke folded his tattooed hands on his lap -- remnants of a rebellious youth in North Philadelphia -- and leaned back in his new office's swivel chair Wednesday before beginning the story of his career. It was a long road, with a seemingly endless list of jobs along the way, that led to the high school drop out becoming Hanover's interim borough manager.

O'Rourke left Thomas A. Edison High School in 1967 on his 16th birthday. Leading up to that decision, O'Rourke had barely been going to class, opting to spend his days at museums, historical sites, libraries and other places his teenage self found infinitely more interesting than the racial strife that dominated his school, he said.

After dropping out, O'Rourke worked a series of odd job, many of which were in restaurants. His end goal was to learn to be a cook, but he still ended up washing his fair share of dishes along the way.

"I didn't do anything for real long," he said.

O'Rourke eventually earned his GED, spent several years enlisted in the U.S. Army and briefly returned back to restaurant work, he said. After being laid off from his mother's restaurant, he returned to Philadelphia to volunteer for a literacy center with adult students.

O'Rourke tutored at local prisons and did paid work teaching remedial math before eventually becoming a tutor trainer, he said.

"The people I worked with kept saying I should go to college," he said. "I thought, 'I'll try that.'"

He enrolled in the Community College of Philadelphia to get an associate's degree in drug and alcohol counseling, a choice inspired by friends from childhood and high school who had substance abuse problems , he said.

"I had a lot of dead friends," he said. "Where I grew up in Philadelphia, it was pretty bad."

One of the faded tattoos on his hands is the astrological symbol for Capricorn, which isn't his sign but that of a friend who died. Several years ago, he began the process of having the tattoos removed but never completed the treatments.

At college, O'Rourke was soon invited into the honors program for interdisciplinary studies, he said. A close friend encouraged him to continue his education by earning a bachelor's degree in philosophy, a subject that interested him, from Haverford College. One month into his first semester there, he knew he wanted to become a criminal defense lawyer to advocate for those like the friends of his youth.

O'Rourke graduated from Temple University's law school in 1986 and accepted a job as a law clerk for a common pleas court judge in Reading, he said.

"After two years, I realized I didn't want to be a part of that system," he said. "It didn't look like justice to me. I saw a lot of unjust things happen."

In the years that followed, O'Rourke used his law degree to work as Schuylkill County solicitor, court master and real estate department director.

"I thought that would be interesting," he said Wednesday each time he recalled switching to a new job.

He eventually decided to begin course work to earn his master's in public administration. Upon completing the degree in 2000, York City offered him a job as the city business administrator. He held that position for about a decade and a half.

During his time in York, he helped clean up the city's financial books and prevent York from becoming financially distressed, he said. He did so by recommending the cutting of programs, elimination of positions and that taxes be raised in the early 2000s, The York Daily Record reported in 2014. 

A number of financial issues, such as the dwindling tax base, rising pension and administration costs and aging infrastructure, also plagued the city throughout his tenure, according to the report.

O'Rourke resigned in 2014 from the position after he and Mayor Kim Bracey had "differences of opinion," he said.

Since his resignation, O'Rourke has been collecting a pension and doing consulting work for municipalities around Pennsylvania. When Florence Ford, who resigned as Hanover's manager effective April 30, approached him about working for Hanover, he jumped at the opportunity to take a job close to his home in the York area once again, he said.

For now, O'Rourke is working for the borough on a part-time basis, meaning he receives no benefits, with no cap on the number of hours he can log. If things in Hanover go well, he would like to accept a full-time position, he said.

O'Rourke is still getting his bearings in Hanover, but his love of history fuels that ever keen interest in the places he works.

He is trying to figure out who Sheppard and Myers were, and exactly why the tax base in Hanover is approaching that of York City's but via a far smaller population. He also wants to find solutions for getting more owner-occupied housing in the borough, he said.

O'Rourke believes Hanover will offer plenty of interesting things to keep him busy.

Speakers at college graduation are often notable alumni or individuals distinguished in their field.

The commencement speaker for the Community College of Philadelphia's Saturday graduation is both — a graduate and a White House staff member.

White House social secretary Deesha Dyer will stand up in front of more than 2,000 graduates of the college to say she's just like them.

From West Philly to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; Deesha Dyer is our own hometown success story.

The Washington Post describes her as “a girl from a hard-knock neighborhood in West Philadelphia who dropped out of college, got a 9-to-5, developed a side-hustle writing about Philly’s hip-hop and soul scene, went to community college, and at age 31 became a White House intern.”

After working her way up the White House ladder from intern in the Office of Scheduling and Advance to associate director for scheduling correspondence to hotel program director to deputy to the social secretary, in 2015 she was named President Obama’s Social Secretary. The Washington Post reports that it’s a role that’s typically held by “upper-class white women with pedigree, connections and political networks.” Dyer is the second black woman to hold the position; she succeeded Jeremy Bernard, who was the first man and first openly gay person to have the post. Along the way she had gained the respect of First Lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama.

Deesha Dyer entered the Community College of Philadelphia as a 29-year-old woman who doubted whether she had the smarts necessary to succeed at the college level.

But by the time she graduated in 2012, Dyer already had secured a job – at the White House. As the associate director for scheduling and correspondence, Dyer merely helped arrange lodgings and site logistics when traveling with the Obamas.

Four years later, Dyer now serves as the White House Social Secretary, a vital position responsible for organizing every social event held at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.