Monday, June 25, 2012

Cuyamaca College: "This place feels like home"

As commencement season wraps up, we wanted to share an excerpt from Cuyamaca College speech instructor Nancy Jennings' graduation address, given just a few weeks after she was injured in a serious bicycle crash.

Nancy Jennings at Cuyamaca College's commencement
When I set foot at Cuyamaca College in 1989, my first thought was, “This place feels like home.” It is 23 years later and I still feel the same way.  As your instructors, we have struggled no matter what was going on around us to do our very best to make Cuyamaca College feel like home to you.
Some of you have had to work a part-time, or even a full-time job to make it through. Some of you are parents, or re-entry students or struggle with English as a second language. You didn't just get your degree or certificate without sacrifice and hard work. We can see it on your faces when you come to class, and whether you know it or not, your stories affect us and can stay with us for years.

I remember the student who was pregnant and scared that she wouldn't make it through the semester because she didn't know when the baby would arrive. But she came to class prepared each day and worked hard and got an A, even though she had to miss several classes in the middle to recover and sometimes had to study while holding her baby girl. There is the young student who came up after class to say that everyone in his life, including his friends, family, girlfriend --good grief-- even his grandmother told him he couldn't make it in college; that he didn't belong there, but here he was in college and succeeding -- and he couldn't be prouder of himself.
 I still remember clearly the student who shared with the class on the first day that he had just gotten out of prison and that on his way to his first ever college class, his 13-year-old son hugged him and said, “Dad, I am very proud of you,”  and that made it the best day of his life.
Of course we also remember stories of students that are examples of what NOT to do:  the student who calls and says, “I'm soooo sick,” then we run into at 7-Eleven 30 minutes later. How about the student who talked me and most of the class into going on the TV show, The Price is Right, then proceeded to lose worse than any contestant in the history of the show.  
Or how about the guy who threatened to knock me off my bicycle and beat me up at a busy intersection in El Cajon before he realized I was his teacher. Each of you have your own story-- stories of struggle and stories of success.
I met my husband, Brian, here in 1993, making this place feel even more like home. Brian and the other friends I have met here over the years, faculty, staff and students, feel like family, especially as they supported me through my recovery from a serious bicycle accident in March. I still have a long way to go, but it gets better every day. Sometimes a crisis like that gives us a chance to see how lucky we are to have each other.
Savor all the moments of your life. Live in those moments as much as you can. Don't arrive at the end of your life saying, “I wish I had gone to the Grand Canyon.” Get in your car and go there now. Author Edward Abbey said, “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.”
 Life should be full of adventure, but it feels good to come home.
Jennings is vice president of the Academic Senate of Cuyamaca College, a representative group of college faculty.