04 Jun 2018 CAUSE & EFFECT: Relevant Scholars
The sights and sounds of commencements are all around us this time of year. I remember my own graduations and the sense that the whole world had stopped and noted my accomplishment. Of course the reality was the only people that shared my excitement were my fellow classmates and my family.
In the age of social media, constant updates from recent high school and college graduations have taken over all of my online channels and I never tire of seeing the beaming faces of pride and accomplishment.
It’s not just the photographs but the inspiring narratives that take center stage. One of my favorite tweets this graduation season was from @ClintSmithIII a writer, teacher and PhD candidate at Harvard.
‘There’s something so genuinely wonderful about commencement season & watching joy emanate from the faces of family members who worked so hard to make sure this person they love can walk across that stage & it doesn’t matter if it’s a PhD or Pre-K. I just think it’s the best thing.’
I was just one of over 10,000 other Twitter users that liked his sentiments and shared it with others. It highlighted the fact that none of us should have to go it alone on our journey to life’s commencements.
But as I pursued the images of robe clad smiling faces, clapboards flung in the air, and well wishes for the future, another theme began to emerge from those who were not in the limelight this year.
One post highlighted a forlorn group of friends with the caption “We graduated last year…so we aren’t relevant anymore.” It was meant to be tongue-in-cheek among all the classic graduation posts but it struck another note with me.
Graduation is just one stop along the way in a cradle to career continuum that has the potential to create a strong workforce for our community and a fulfilling future for the student. But getting to the stage is not always easy.
Recently the Southwest Florida Community Foundation closed our 2018 scholarship season. With over 400 applications and 100 scholarship reviewers reading and scoring the submissions I was reminded that donors set up these funds to help get students beyond graduation to the finish line with a great career.
The stories in the applications reminded all of us of how difficult that journey has become. Getting into college or an industry certification program is tough, but staying in beyond the first year presents a whole new set of challenges.
Tessa LeSage, director of social innovation and sustainability and the team leader of our scholarship program at the Foundation shares, “More students than not face incredible barriers, from a lack of career exposure to needing to maintain a job or care for a family member while trying to get the training and education they need. No one creates a scholarship fund thinking a student won’t ever earn a credential, but that is the reality for many who try to navigate the path to education beyond high school today.”
When students complete a post-secondary program, the next big challenge is finding a job and in many cases paying down student debt. It has become critical that we help them identify the best path to make that a reality, assisting them in matching their skills, talents and education to available careers.
So to those who find themselves in the midst of degree or certification program and making it happen, or those in the workforce who just have a few classes remaining to secure a degree, or recent grads on the job hunt- you are relevant. You are navigating the way to completion or the dream you had when you first began the journey.
It may not feel as exciting as the moment you walked across the stage or completed a GED, but you are doing it.
To this end the Foundation is reimagining the way we partner with donors and scholarship recipients. We have expanded the number of multi-year awards, meaning that funding stays with a qualified student until graduation, explored establishing emergency funds for students who hit a roadblock along the way, and awarded funding that supports college and career readiness and completion programs to local nonprofits.
We are also proud partners in the FutureMakers Coalition and serve as the backbone organization for this group of community stakeholders committed to transforming the workforce by increasing the number of working age adults to 55% by 2025.
Congratulations to the Class of 2018, enjoy the well-deserved recognition, keep posting those pictures and remember you will be relevant scholars all along the way and we will be cheering for you and supporting you for years to come.
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $5.4 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $115 million, it has provided more than $71 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. Currently, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are located off College Parkway in South Fort Myers, with satellite offices located on Sanibel Island, in LaBelle (Hendry County) and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit www.floridacommunity.com