Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC)

Community College of Allegheny County

2013 Commencement Remarks: Alex Johnson

Former Alex Johnson, President, CCAC

I am truly excited about this year’s commencement, because with approximately 465 students in attendance tonight, the Class of 2013 has the largest level of participation in a graduation ceremony in the history of the Community College of Allegheny County.

Given this record, we are particularly delighted to welcome as our keynote speaker Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg of the University of Pittsburgh. For many, many years, and most notably under Chancellor Nordenberg’s leadership, Pitt and CCAC have enjoyed a very productive partnership where most of our transfer students enroll at the University.

   Dr. Johnson Commencement 2013_thumb

Also important is the fact that Chancellor Nordenberg applauds and honors the mission of community colleges and advocates on behalf of CCAC regularly at the state and local levels. Given his unswerving commitment to the two-year college experience, we are pleased to welcome Chancellor Nordenberg into our family as symbolized by the honorary degree he will receive this evening.

As you are recognized for earning your certificates and degrees, I feel that it is important for us to reflect on your achievements and also those of the college.

Many of you have balanced your studies against family and jobs, making difficult decisions about your time and your resources. In fact, one out of every six CCAC students works more than 40 hours per week while taking classes. And, many of you have family that depends on you. Those of you here tonight are the ones who stayed the course despite the need to work or care for family. You have reached your goal, and you are to be commended for that.

This fact is very clear in the experience of one of your fellow graduates. Margaret Young decided in December 2009, at age 67, to finish the CCAC education she had tentatively begun with a few courses 20 years earlier. She said that she remembers “getting excited about making a commitment to myself that I was going to go full speed ahead and not let anything stop me from pursuing my goal.”

Then in January 2010 this active community volunteer had emergency double-bypass open-heart surgery. Margaret said, “As part of my rehab therapy, my heart doctor agreed with me, it was a good idea for me to continue my education. God truly gave me a new lease on life, filled with more vitality, more purpose, dedication and determination.”

With the support of her academic advisor, Professor Carla Young—who also happens to be her daughter—Margaret is completing her associate’s degree in Social Work Technician, graduating with honors at age 70. Margaret, and Carla, please stand and be recognized.

Margaret truly has an inspiring story. She is emblematic of our effort to meet President Obama’s challenge to restore the United States to its status as the world leader in degree attainment. As a result, we are seeking to increase our graduation number by 50% over a decade, so that by 2020 we are graduating 3,300 students each and every year. This year we stand at approximately 2,700 graduates. But we still have hard work to do.

In order to get there, we must take steps to ensure that all students have the resources needed for success. I am pleased to stand here tonight and tell you that this spring, the CCAC Board of Trustees approved a resolution proclaiming student success and completion the highest priority of the board.

And I can assure you it is also the highest priority of this administration, and especially of our dedicated faculty. Our faculty members have been behind the most successful initiatives to promote student success, from our Math Cafés and Learning Commons, to a comprehensive first-year experience program and important changes to policy that direct students toward the most successful path and provide the support that they need for success.

Our efforts in this regard have led to national recognition. I can tell you that as I participate in initiatives that bring together the top community colleges in the nation, CCAC stands miles ahead with the strides we have taken to promote student success. This is to say nothing of the way we have garnered the support of the community and the government. Our Imagine & Achieve campaign reflects that support, raising more than $41 million in gifts and competitive grants to be among the largest campaigns of any community college in the nation.

I am convinced that CCAC’s best days lie ahead of us, and we will continue to do everything we can to enable our students to reach their educational goals. In the truest sense, your success is the success of this entire institution.

Ultimately, however, it is the responsibility of you, the student, to take control of your education, to stay on that path, to put one foot in front of the other until you are walking across this stage. And you have done that, and you will walk across this stage tonight. Everyone, please join me in congratulating the CCAC Class of 2013.