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STLCC Commencement Speakers Overcame Much to Reach Their Goals

May 26, 2009

STLCC Commencement speakers  
STLCC's student speakers at the 2009 Commencement
Exercises were, from left, Gabriel Walker, Mary Brennan Meyer,
Deborah Black and Patricia Medina.

Nearly 6,000 family and friends helped celebrate the success of St. Louis Community College’s 2009 graduating class in commencement exercises conducted recently at the Scottrade Center.

A record number of faculty and staff – nearly 200 – participated in the ceremony. Student speakers included Deborah Black, who earned dual associate degrees in criminal justice and general transfer studies from Forest Park; Mary Brennan Meyer, associate degree in general transfer studies from Wildwood; Patricia Medina, associate degree in nursing from Meramec; and Gabriel Walker, associate degree in teacher education-secondary education from Florissant Valley.

Black did not graduate from high school but later earned her GED. “I cried when my friends graduated high school. That’s why it was so important to me to walk in this ceremony at St. Louis Community College,” said Black, who graduated with honors.

Many STLCC graduates, Black said, must endure much to finish school. A single mother of five, Black was homeless for a brief period and had to send her children back to live with their father. After reuniting, Black also returned to school. She now hopes to work in a youth home as a specialist for the Department of Youth Services and eventually become a deputy juvenile officer. She is transferring to the University of Missouri-St. Louis to study criminal justice.

“Only those who are close to us know what we had to go through to get here,” she told the audience. “It’s hard to go back to school, but the rewards are much greater than the tasks you will take on.”

Medina, a native of Colombia, moved to the United States in 2001 to pursue a nursing degree. Speaking no English, Medina learned about community colleges while living in New York City. While attending Manhattan Community College, Medina was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. “I couldn’t go to classes, study, or even lift my head off the pillow,” she said. “But I kept trying.”

After her health improved, Medina moved to St. Louis in 2003 to attend Meramec, and persevered through a challenging curriculum to achieve her dream. On March 17, she passed the state board examination for nursing. She is working at St. Anthony’s Medical Center as a registered nurse in cardiac telemetry. Medina said further education is a distinct possibility.

“My grandmother told me that knowledge is power,” she said. “We have knowledge and power. No one can take that away from you.”

Meyer, the Wildwood campus’s first commencement speaker, is the mother of four college-age children. As a single parent, she almost gave up on her dream to go to college.

“I chose to make an investment in myself, and returned to class after 30 years,” she said. “I’ve learned alongside the most incredible students and have been inspired by the faculty and staff. We proudly represent the ‘real life’ community, and I have found my passion in education. Education has the power to unlock doors.”

Meyer, who graduated with honors and was a member of Phi Theta Kappa, will attend Maryville University in the fall to study organizational leadership.

Walker, who returned to school after 10 years, credits the Florissant Valley faculty and staff for sharpening his focus. He was an active member of the Future Teachers Organization and Service Club, and served as the vice president of the Student Government Association as well as a Peer Leader. Based on his college activities and his desire to focus on the success of others, Walker heads to the University of Missouri-St. Louis to complete a bachelor’s degree in secondary education, specializing in history and Spanish.

“You can reach destinations you’ve only dreamed of,” Walker said to his fellow graduates. “This is our time, and we’re all destined for greatness.”

2009 Commencement Ceremonies Slide Show