It is one thing to recite some vague notion that there were obstacles to navigate in order for many of this year’s Student Success Award winners at Community College of Aurora to be ultimately recognized for their achievements. Listing some of these potential impediments, though, puts the journey of this year’s 21 recipients in true perspective.
Erika Ramos moved from her native El Salvador to Colorado, but was met with the problems stemming from her son’s premature birth, including surgeries on both his heart and eyes. The rehabilitation and adaption to a new culture were stressful. She’s now finishing ESL courses and striving towards a degree in Accounting.
James A Fountain belonged to a family where graduating high school and college had never occurred. He not only worked full time, but attended college and was recognized for his deep commitment to community service. He also earned a scholarship to study abroad after having never traveled outside the United States and will earn his diploma.
These stories of endurance only matched those of many of their peers who overcame a litany of roadblocks on their paths to academic success.
• Financial hardship. Prison. Abuse.
• Caring for a special needs child. Divorce.
• Time constraints. Language barriers. Hard labor. Physical trauma.
• Years adrift. Long bus excursions to campus.
• Family loss.
• Political unrest.
Those are harsh realities many of the Student Success Award Winners had to endure.
One faculty member during the Dec. 7 ceremony described the woman that he nominated as such: “She just never let up.” It’s a characteristic shared by many of the award winners, who spanned the spectrum of diversity, circumstance and background. The sum total is individuals who didn’t succumb to obstacles but, as another speaker described it, “embraced them to do inspiring things.”
The award recipients, in total, were: Omima Abdoun; Jennifer Bird; Bethany Marie Even; Fountain; Yesenia Galvan Rosales; Juan A. Garcia-Coque; Angelica Gatchell; Mahmoud Bashir Gendel; Rob Hatcher; Jack D. Howard; Hakim A. Lahman; Hui Ma; Ryan Manzanares; Ahouefa Mawunou; Genet Melese; David Olorunmola; Ramos; Catrina Semakula; Aisha Spencer; Michelle Twaddell; and Anika Walker.
Words like persistence, desire, achievement, strong-mindedness and heart were commonplace in the descriptions of these winners, who hailed from Sudan to Togo, Guatemala to Morocco, China to Ethiopia and places in between. Many of these high-achieving students are the first in their families to attend college. All of them appeared to share great pride in their accomplishments, however large or small the barriers they seemingly faced.
“As we listened to the stories of triumph and celebrated our students’ success, there are a couple things that became very clear to me,” CCA President Alton D. Scales said. “We heard repeatedly about people absolutely committed to being successful, and individuals who along the way – in the presence of great adversity –
brought joy to the space they occupy. When you lead with your heart and are focused, you continue to do things that are absolutely important, adding to the communities we exist in, and leaving them better because we exist.”
Four recipients –Even, Bird, Twaddell and Fountain -- received an additional financial boost by earning $500 scholarships, part of the $250,000 dispersed by the CCA Foundation to deserving students throughout the Fall semester.
“There definitely are going to be some people here that will go on and remember this, will be better people and pay it forward, so to speak,” said James Gray, the Math department chair and a former CCA student who organized the awards, which have now been held for the past eight years.