How it Started vs. How it’s Going
By Marz Anderson
Saying goodbye is never easy. Imagine how hard it is to say goodbye to friends and professors when graduating college. When you’re a student you think it will never end, but the time has come for the Fall Class of 2020 to graduate from Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C). Say goodbye to late homework assignments, traveling between campuses, and doing whatever it takes to get your degree. Now the time has come to celebrate, but this year it’s bittersweet.
How do students say goodbye to one another? Maybe you met in class or at organizations like The Voice and TRiO. How do you say goodbye to the old chapter as you move to the next? You don’t! Graduation is supposed to be the celebration with your peers that reflects on your academic success and hard work, where your friends and family come to cheer your name even when instructed to hold their applause. Unfortunately, Tri-C’s Fall Class of 2020 must celebrate a socially distanced graduation from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of November, Cuyahoga County returned to level 3 red status for very high exposure and spread of COVID-19 as reported by Tri-C’s enrollment management. At press time, a total of 7,976 cases had been reported by the City of Cleveland. During the fall semester, the college offered students as many resources as it could, such as COVID updates, on-campus safety kits, and testing. Students had the option of remote or in-person learning in addition to varied opportunities, like the new fall internship program, virtual college, and job fairs to make the transition from student to graduate seamless. Eric Norris, a career service specialist at the Career Center, gives graduates the advice to look for opportunities now.
“Employers are hiring, even during this pandemic,” Norris said. “I would suggest that they [students] start building their personal brand and expand their professional networks like LinkedIn.”
Norris also said during the pandemic the Career Center has increased its accessibility to students and introduced Handshake, a site to help students find career opportunities on and off campus. “All alumni have career center services for life; they will always be emailed information regarding careers; this site [Handshake] will allow students to stay connected with the Career Center post-graduation,” Norris said.
Tri-C has a current graduation rate of 21%, according to Tri-C’s media relations representative John Horton. This may seem low; however, the public must understand that a community college opens its doors to many students. Unlike other institutions that have certain admission requirements, Tri-C must aid unprepared students in finding a career or moving on to a four-year university. This could take two years for some, and more for others.
Lynn Knish, a health services student and TRiO scholar, will successfully graduate this fall after facing constant doubt and a past that left her unprepared for the future.
Knish began her journey with Tri-C’s Women in Transition (WIT), a program that helps provide women with information, support, and referrals during a transitional period in their lives. Knish tearfully remembers completing WIT and transitioning to Tri-C’s GED program.
“I knew education was important; I wanted to help kids; I also knew I couldn’t do it without my GED. I had always been a mom,” Knish said. “I was always the eldest student [in class]; I hadn’t gone to high school, so it was scary to me. My professors witnessed meltdowns of ‘I can’t do this’, but they worked with me until I was prepared for my test, and on May 1, 2017, I earned my GED. I didn’t think someone like me could accomplish something like that, and later that fall I enrolled full time at Western Campus.”
Not every Tri-C student has thought to use the additional resources offered by the college, they simply come to class, get the work done, and go. The most important part of the experience is completion and setting the example. This was the case of Fayelice Virden, an Eastern Campus health services student who says she wants to set an example for her two children, making sure they know that education is still important in a world of entrepreneurship.
“My son wants to be a YouTuber and I’m not against it, but I want to motivate them both to not give up on school even after high school,” Virden said.
Virden faced the issue of time management because of her commutes to classes, originally attending the Eastern Campus and later Metro Campus to take her major coursework, traveling from Twinsburg. “My kids have been with me through the whole process, we would try to study at the dinner table together, which doesn’t always work, and I would sometimes sacrifice study time for them.”
During the pandemic, Virden has mostly virtual coursework, however, for one course she must still commute to campus. She currently works two jobs including a position she gained from being in Tri-C’s summer internship program, but she wishes she had done more during her time at the college, such as using resources like tutoring or joining organizations like the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. When Virden attends the University of Akron, she plans to take on more opportunities.
“I beat myself up for not applying for scholarships which professors stressed to us because I’ve always had the grades.” Virden did, however, take advantage of the CARES Act funding offered to students because having her boys’ home versus being in the classroom became costly.
Tri-C is not the only college in Ohio to make the shift to a virtual commencement. Universities such as the University of Toledo, Ohio University, and Wright State have also decided to have online commencements this fall. Tri-C has partnered with the company StageClip to host the virtual celebration. Students can submit a photo, video, or quote to be included in the ceremony. In addition to their submissions, graduates can request a commencement program no later than midnight Tuesday Dec. 22, but it will not arrive until January 2021.
Virden plans to celebrate graduation with her boys and fiancé, stating it is their graduation too. She says she is going to go out with a bang and even though she wants to take a break, Virden said “I feel like I’m going to put off getting my bachelors, I just want to start and keep going.” Virden thanks Tri-C for everything, including making the journey easy and allowing her to go at her own pace.
“I never wanted to be a mother that works and goes to school but never has time for her kids,” Virden said. “I could take as many classes as I wanted even if it was one, so I’m thankful for that.” Virden works in the Garden Valley neighborhood in their learning center as a social service assistant, she was hired-in after completing her Tri-C summer internship, her future has truly begun at Tri-C.
Knish says she did not think there would be an in-person graduation because she watches the news and sees the surge in numbers reported. She will get together with her family at her home even though she wanted them along with friends to see her walk the stage. “I guess I have to just deal with it, I know that it’s never going to happen,” Knish said. “They will still be with me when I graduate. It’s just going to be weird.” Knish also happily assured that she will cry during the virtual ceremony as she did when completing her WIT and GED programs.
One of the things Knish enjoyed about Tri-C was that you could be yourself. She also says she has gotten too used to being at Western campus. She hopes to find her place at Cleveland State University where she will double major in psychology and social work.
“Thank you for taking the time; for working with someone my age because it was not easy, thank you for not focusing on my limitations and giving me outlets and encouraging me.” Knish also wanted to thank the instructors in the WIT and GED programs, professors Kenneth Williams and Dr. Men’yon Thomas, and her counselor David Nardecchia who encouraged her to stay in school when she was overwhelmed. “Thank you everyone who has given me the opportunity to be successful.”
Community college welcomes students from all walks of life, encourages them to overcome what challenges them, and gives them a foundation for success. This is what Tri-C has done for students Knish, Virden, and many more graduates in the Class of 2020, including this media and journalism studies student. Unfortunately there will be no opportunity to name or say goodbye to every graduate in the class, however, this is a salute to the Fall Class of 2020. As you turn your tassel, remember that your story does not end here and that your future has only begun.
Tri-C’s virtual commencement will take place Dec. 17 at 6p.m. Visit tri-c.edu/commencement for more information. For additional information on Tri-C programs such as WIT, TRiO, or the GED programs visit tri-c.edu. And congratulations to the Class of 2020.