Creston, Iowa (pop. 7597) just got a high-profile visitor. Jill Biden, our nation’s Second Lady, came to town to deliver the commencement speech at Creston’s Southwestern Community College (SWCC). Community colleges and their students are a top priority for Biden. She is a full-time professor at a Washington area community college. Addressing a packed crowd, she began by congratulating the students and local residents.
She called on the assembled graduates to embark on a course that will continue to utilize their individual strengths to help lift others up, and to make learning a life-long journey.
Addressing the special, specific needs of the recently laid off workers, single parents who juggle a job and a family, and displaced older workers, Biden applauded the spirit that brought these students to SWCC.
“Because no matter how hard it got, and I know that there have been hard times, you never lost your faith in yourself and what you can do,” Biden said.
As a passionate advocate for veterans and military families, Biden cited Eric Mahoney as a prime example. Honorably discharged from the Army in 2008, Mahoney served in Bosnia and did three tours of duty in Iraq.
“When he got home, Eric knew he wanted to keep helping others,” Biden told the crowd. “So, he went to work in a hospital, then, in 2010, he lost his job, but he never lost his spirit.”
Mahoney opted to enroll at SWCC, earning an Associate of Arts degree, and this fall he will continue his education by enrolling in the electrical engineering program at Iowa State University. And Mahoney isn’t the only college graduate in the family, his wife Stephanie was also awarded an Associate of Arts degree.
As she introduced Keenan A. Joiner, the Second Lady told the audience that the young man had found his career path while pursuing his passion. He enrolled at SWCC because he liked the basketball program and became the team captain.
“Keenan’s strength is making everyone around him better, so that’s what he does,” Biden said, “and that’s what he’ll do after graduation, too.”
This fall the scholar/athlete will begin studies in sport physiology at Grand View University in Des Moines.
Biden also cited Donna Larkin, a single mom who found herself without a job when her employer folded operations at a local factory. Always a car buff, Larkin went back to school and has just earned her Associate of Applied Science degree in collision repair and refinishing. Now, with a job lined up in an automotive shop in nearby Villisca, she has enrolled in SWCC’s automotive repair technology program.
“Donna has never stopped learning and is well on her way toward reaching the ultimate goal of owning and running her own shop,” Biden said. “Donna, congratulations, I’m so proud of you.”
Even though it is an election year, the Second Lady steered her remarks away from any political references or campaign rhetoric. Instead, she spoke of community colleges as beacons of hope that provide education and job training to so many non-traditional, underserved students.