Grade the result of city’s commitment to education

Thursday night was one of those nights you know you won’t forget. The RiverPark Center was packed for the OCTC graduation. Not a seat was empty in the hall full of graduates and their family and friends celebrating the milestone.

The graduates came from all walks of life, spanning ages from high school students (30 received their associate degrees) to people my age (two of my high school classmates were in the group).

The graduates walked the stage and received certificates and diplomas which will open doors in all different career paths. From welding certificates, to associate’s degrees in areas ranging from careers in advanced manufacturing to business and health care, each graduate no doubt has a unique story that would be the perfect narrative of why community colleges exist and why they transform lives and communities.

And while different journeys brought them to the RiverPark Center stage, the underlying motivation was shared by each of those graduates. All enrolled at OCTC with the same motivation in mind …

They were there for a better life.

Today, we take for granted that we have the best community college in the state of Kentucky and one of the best in the United States. But just a few decades ago, we did not even have one. A group called the Citizens Committee on Education and several business leaders led by John Hager, who owned the Messenger-Inquirer, and his friend Morton Holbrook, a local attorney, joined Kentucky House Speaker Don Blandford, who just happened to be from Owensboro.

They set out on a several year course to create, secure state funding and find a location for the Owensboro Community College. And in the process, hundreds of others became involved to push it across the finish line. It took years.

And it took hundreds more people and years longer to build our Advanced Technology Center and our new Industry Innovation Center.

Why did all of these people from all across backgrounds and career paths join together to create our community college and to continue to boost its growth?

Because in Owensboro, we believe in the power of community.

Because in Owensboro, we know education plays a fundamental role in the quality of a person’s life, in their ability to provide for their family.

Because in Owensboro, we know education is fundamental in building a strong, recession-proof economy.

Because in Owensboro, we know education is the foundation on which we grow citizens and informed taxpayers.

Because in Owensboro, there is a belief that we will always get better … that we can always find a way.

Seeing that crowd and feeling the energy, looking at the proud faces of men and women who will get up tomorrow and go to work to make our small city a little stronger, doesn’t just give me hope for our future. It makes me proud to be alongside them pushing, working together to make our mark on our home. And to maybe leave things a little better.

Congratulations, Class of 2018.

By Candance Brake, President and CEO of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce