ELYRIA — From the steel mill floor to the halls of Lorain County Community College to the big stage Saturday morning, Kenneth Glynn comes from and is going to many places.
During the college’s 54th annual commencement ceremony, Glynn garnered a standing ovation after reciting a poem about his life growing up on Elyria’s south side with a teenage mother and the struggles of poverty.
LCCC President Marcia Ballinger said she first met Glynn a year ago and immediately knew she would not be able to forget his humble nature and genuine appreciation for life.
“At LCCC, we believe that every student’s dream matters. And that’s what we’re celebrating — dreams like that of Kenneth Glynn,” she said to a packed house inside the college’s Ewing Activities Center.
The day marked the largest graduating class with a combined 2,018 graduates making up the class of 2018 — a coincidence Ballinger gleefully shared.
“How remarkable it that?” she said.
This represents students who received associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees through the college’s traditional two-year program and the University Partnership, which is a 3+1 model that allows students to earn advanced degrees from four-year colleges and universities across the state at a fraction of the cost.
On Saturday, Glynn earned an associate of arts degree and certificates in business administration and business management. It is the first of many collegiate steps he will take as he is working on a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from Cleveland State University through the University Partnership.
Those accomplishments aside, Glynn is a 2018 DREAM Scholar — one of eight students in the nation to receive the honor. As the first speaker of the morning, Glynn recited the poem that he wrote and shared earlier this year at the Achieving the DREAM conference.
It was a moving piece that illustrated that a person’s station in life is not limited by birthright, hometown or socioeconomic status. When Glynn lost his steel mill job, he turned to LCCC to recalibrate his life’s trajectory, and his powerful words captured that rollercoaster ride — one that is quite common among the cohort of nontraditional but proud graduates.
“I come from a small-framed, hard-nose, not-taking-anything-from-anyone, sharp-dressing mother, who grew up in Eufaula, Alabama, and migrated to the north during the Great Migration at the age of 9 and landed in Elyria, Ohio,” Glynn began. “By 17, she was pregnant with her first child, a son: Kenneth L. Glynn. She wanted to give me up for adoption, but my grandmother made her keep me, so she had to grow up really quickly.”
Glynn didn’t meet his real father until he was in his 30s. He also served 10 years in the U.S. Army.
“I come from barriers that I had to knock down to save my life,” he said. “I remember how when I attended school for the first time it scared me to find out how further the other kids were already ahead of me.”
Yet, LCCC gave Glynn a new purpose, and now it is where he proudly says he comes from.
“I come from the courage to go back to school after losing my job at the steel mill,
20 years of back-breaking work that filled my banking account but emptied my soul,” he said. “… I come from Lorain County Community College where my dreams became a reality. Where everyone smiles and shares in successes. Where people like me rise to the next level. Where our dreams become the keys to unlocking our once-trapped lives.”
Glynn’s words moved the crowd, but he represented only one LCCC success story. That is what a college graduation is all about. It is the culmination of years of studying for tough tests, writing lengthy and thought-provoking papers, picking the right courses and following through on a plan even when life throws a few curveballs.
There is something special about a LCCC graduation because within the horde of black robe-wearing graduates who must wait patiently for their turn to walk across the stage are stories of family struggles to overcome, family promises to keep and family memories to make.
“I love when education is a family affair,” Ballinger said. “I know there are several family members together today in caps and gowns.”
One such graduation story is that of Randy Churchill and his son, Nick.
Churchill earned an associate degree in construction management, a college journey that started and stopped in the 1980s. His son received a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering from The University of Toledo through the University Partnership.
Keynote speaker Michael J. Brown, the president of Barrick USA, the largest gold mining company in the world, said it is the tenacity to overcome the struggles, keep the promises and make the family memories that makes him champion community-college graduates.
“Persisting to graduation at a community college is a noted accomplishment,” he said. “Traditional students at residential four-year colleges typically have a campus life focused on peers, classes and social events. While the community college student struggles to fit courses, and maybe tutoring, into schedules that are often constrained by part- or full-time jobs, family commitments, child rearing, long commutes and maybe food insecurity.”
Until Saturday, Brown could say only that he attended LCCC. The lack of three credits kept him from saying he was an LCCC graduate for 40 years.
Ballinger rectified that problem for him, conferring an associate of arts degree to Brown as he pumped his fist and beamed from ear to ear.
“I am a proud supporter of community colleges, and now I can finally say that I am a graduate of Lorain County Community College,” Brown said.