Brescia University is a community and economic asset

Last week, I had a full-circle moment and experience that I felt deeply fortunate to have. I knew beforehand that speaking at Brescia University’s Commencement Ceremony was an honor that I would not forget. But I was not anticipating being as deeply moved as I was, or becoming as resolute as I am that our community must find pathways to keep these young people here so we can become even better.

From the opening, the Student Government president spoke to the class of 2021 — and also to the Class of 2020 — reflecting on all that they had gone through to finally arrive at their graduation.

I am mom to a 2020 college graduate and of a 2022 graduate. I saw first-hand how tough it was for the Class of 2020 to miss out on the second semester of their senior year, to not celebrate their college graduation ceremony together, and to enter the post-graduation world in the middle of a global pandemic and a global economic shutdown. Many had their entire lives paused for a year.

The Class of 2021 returned to campus last fall with lockdowns and public health procedures in place, all while dealing with limited class time, hybrid classes, mask mandates and limited opportunities for connection . . . connection that is at the very heart of a college experience.

Yet they did it with grace. I never heard any young person I know complain. Not once. They are role models for the rest of us.

I have been blessed to spend the past 23 years with this generation. Knowing they will be in charge when I am aged has gotten me through days when the current generations in charge have disappointed me to the core.

As the graduates were announced and walked the stage, I was struck by the fact that nearly 40 states were named as home states. And there were scores of international students, too. In a community where I hear from CEOs struggling to promote diversity, I saw countless graduates of all different races, ethnicities and backgrounds.

As a person who spends time each day thinking about how we can build a stronger, more competitive community, I was reminded of how our local colleges are incubators for our success. This is not a new idea or thought. But as the labor market gets tighter and the race for talent continues to be more competitive, time is crucial.

How much better is this community because of Brescia? Every project of significance in our community over the past 50 years was led, implemented, financed or staffed with someone from Brescia in the mix and often in a leadership role.

Imagine how much better we could be if we had a pipeline for each Brescia graduate who wanted to make Owensboro their home. We need them. We need their ideas, their innovation and their energy. Over the next year, we hope to work on some definitive pathways for Owensboro to make it easier for all of our graduates of our local colleges to grow their careers here.

The Chamber starts off each Leadership Owensboro class year with a presentation from Father Larry about ethics and leadership. He distributes his personal list of “Values, rules and virtues to lead by,” which are guidelines he practices in his life. I keep the list in several different places so I can remind myself each day, over and over, of the important things to remember so that I can be a better version of myself. Obviously, I am a major work in progress.

The last item on Father Larry’s list is “Pray.” It is not last because it is the last practice to remember. It is last because it is a constant that is an umbrella over every other virtue.

Today, I pray a prayer of thanksgiving. For the Ursuline Sisters, faculty, staff and administration of Brescia. And for the students who worked, juggled family obligations, lived through COVID-19 and who made Owensboro home.

Let’s see if we can keep them here.

By Candance Castlen Brake President and CEO Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce Messenger-Inquirer