Dear Graduates:

Published by Savannah Peterson on

Savannah Peterson and Rachel Arceo, 2023 AAOT graduates

Two student media editors celebrate the value of a community college education.
Elyse Prowell / The Mainstream

Umpqua Community College is one of those special places where the people, the location, and the activities all come together to create profound, transformative change.

As graduating students, we have learned so much in our courses, but this journey has also changed who we are and what we’re capable of.  

Foremost, college has taught us the importance of self-motivation and willpower. No one is going to do this for you; you have to do college for yourself even though you don’t always do it by yourself. No one gets to graduation without perseverance.

When many of this year’s graduates started UCC, the pandemic had forced classes online, and the face-to-face components we had relied on for school success were taken away. Some of us felt like we had to start college by teaching ourselves how to teach ourselves as the online classes required so much more independent learning.

Then, as face-to-face classes returned to campus, many of us had to change again, re-learning how to learn with others and attend college in a different way. We had to learn how to juggle entirely different schedules, figure out transportation issues, and deal with the unique challenges that came with re-entering social spaces we hadn’t traversed for a while.

College has also taught us about boundaries. Every student who graduates from college has had at least one moment when they’ve felt like dropping out but didn’t.  Through our UCC journey, we’ve learned how to set and re-set boundaries. How to push forward and how to pull back. At times, we’ve put so much on our plates that we truly pushed ourselves beyond what we were capable of, then at the point of burnout, we’ve had to evaluate our lives to re-set our goals and re-arrange what we’ve “put on our plates” so that we can meet our goals. These lessons were especially invaluable.

We’re thankful that UCC is a good place to test the weight of what is on your plate, the weight of what you can do. When you choose what is best for your educational journey instead of what is best in the moment, you learn how to make priorities and how to test yourself. How to grow. How to find potential you didn’t know you had. This is the unique gift that UCC gives because here you can do this safely.

You can’t easily go to a university and try without succeeding because you’d burn through too much money. Although community college isn’t cheap, it is definitely the perfect place to get your sea legs as a student, especially with the support of instructional staff.

Another thing we’ve learned is the value of our teachers. Teachers here have made us feel capable; they’ve bonded with us through personal connections, providing counseling and advising and extensive one-on-one connections as well as curriculum. The small classes and the professors’ feedback and encouragement when they see your struggles is life changing. They tell you you’re doing a good job and help you when you aren’t. They help you develop life-changing confidence. We no longer have difficulties talking to people in authority or communicating professionally because of the relationships we’ve had and what we’ve been taught here. We can open up in public; we can be heard. We wouldn’t be where we’re at without so many UCC teachers who have hearts of gold, who put in time that they aren’t paid for without thought or question, who open up for a heart-to-heart with you. That’s huge.

So many students at universities feel like a small fish in a big pond, but at UCC, we have been given the connections that make the college feel welcoming and the tools to learn how to advocate for ourselves to get the things we need to excel. UCC is a comfortable place where people are close, where they smile instead of looking down at their phones when they pass you. It’s a beautiful place where you can enjoy your peers and the neighbors who walk by, and all the wildlife you’ll see every day.

Graduation is a moment to celebrate what we’ve all excelled at. It’s also a time to remember what worked so we can keep using our skills moving forward. Keep tackling goals one step at a time. Start small and be honest with what you know and what you don’t. Ask for help. Don’t let fear of failure hold you back or stop you from learning. Do that thing you need to learn how to do a second, or third, or fourth time, knowing that the results will eventually be different. Remember that the end reward is so much bigger than the failures along the way. Remember that you can succeed. You’ve graduated!

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For more articles by Savannah Peterson, please click here.

Contact me at:

For more articles by Rachel Arceo, please click here.