When Kathleen Hetherington first mentioned that she might enroll at Community College of Philadelphia, a teacher at West Philadelphia Catholic Girls High School tried to discourage her.
Back then, community colleges were not always on the radar.
Yet, somehow they still have managed to attract top talent like creative genius Walt Disney, movie star Tom Hanks, American journalist Jim Lehr, and a girl from Southwest Philly, Kathleen Hetherington, who went on to become president of Howard Community College in Columbia, MD, and her alma mater’s 2015 commencement speaker.
“To paraphrase the famous actor Tom Hanks, also a community college graduate, ‘Community college made me what I am today,’” said Dr. Hetherington during Community College of Philadelphia’s May 2 commencement at Temple University’s Liacouras Center. “If it were not for the excellent education that I received and the experience I had as an employee of the College, I would not be standing before you today. So I am very grateful to the community college system, but my enthusiasm is more about what I’ve seen community colleges do for others. I have seen lives transformed. All of you who are graduating today have experienced that transformation.”
In Philadelphia, the Community College of Philadelphia Class of 2015 had 2,081 candidates for graduation. Four College employees, 25 international students, and 40 veterans were among this year’s class. Times are so different now, Dr. Hetherington told them.
Community colleges are a first option for a growing number of students seeking a path to the Ivy League or to top colleges and universities such as Temple, La Salle and Drexel. Four students in the College’s Class of 2015 already have been accepted to the University of Pennsylvania.
“For many students, community colleges are their first choice. But they are also the place where people get a ‘second chance.’ Perhaps life intervened, or another college wasn’t a good fit, or maybe it wasn’t their time, but community colleges are the place where people get that rarest of things—a second chance—and it happens each and every day.”
Dr. Hetherington, who received an honorary degree during the ceremony from Community College of Philadelphia's president, Dr. Donald Guy Generals, then shared some advice to the graduates who will scatter as some enter new careers and others transfer to four-year colleges and universities.
Her personal rules for success? Always dream big. Never underestimate the value of hard work. Face your fears. And stop worrying about what people think about you; most of the time they are thinking about themselves.
Student speaker Charlene Hoffman, a 57-year old mother of three and honor student who plans to teach theater to children, offered advice as well: Give back to the community. “We have a responsibility to our communities, to the world, no matter our majors or aspirations,” said Hoffman. “We must challenge ourselves to be engaged in our communities by giving back. Each one should teach one. The challenge is to take the connections we made, our unique passions, and take our degrees and do something positive and significant with them.”
Also during the ceremony, Dr. Generals announced that Dr. Sarah Iepson, associate professor of art, was the winner of the 2015 Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award, established by the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation. As the honoree, Iepson will deliver a celebrated lecture during the 2015-2016 academic year.