Jessica Decker will be graduating on May 23 from MWCC with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing. What follows is a message from her to the class of 2019.
Here I am standing strong and accomplished among my incredibly bright and promising fellow graduates to share with you my personal answer of “What does Mount Wachusett Community College mean to me?”
Hard to believe that years ago I walked through the doors of this school wanting to be a nurse, yet I was vulnerable and unsure of myself. I had observed the care and compassion provided to my father by his interdisciplinary team during his courageous battle with cancer, which he lost September of 2006. It then became my dream to someday bestow upon you and your families, our community, that same respect and commitment as a medical professional. I was what we call a ‘non-traditional student’ as well as a ‘first-generation college student’. The grey hairs beneath my cap would red flag the fact that I am not attending college directly out of high school. I had no medical background; I was a rink manager. I was a single mother of two very busy boys. I was going to have to work many long hours in addition to attending classes fulltime to support my household. There were past challenges with my health that had me questioning my ability to faithfully adhere to the demanding requirements of a degree program. Was I crazy? No. I came to realize this self-doubt was nothing more than excuses – excuses I was ready to turn into successes. I had this ambition burning inside of me and all I had to do is take that first step. Terrified as I was, I simply put one foot in front of the other, and Mount Wachusett Community College became my new beginning.
Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy, right? I was no stranger to hard work and accepted the educational challenge, facing many obstacles along the way. During the course of my prerequisites I suffered a full retinal detachment leaving me blind in my right eye, even after several attempts at surgical repair. I could have very easily given up at that point, and everyone certainly would have understood why – but that’s just not me. Many semesters I continued striving for that 4.0 GPA in hopes of an acceptance letter to the Associates Degree Nursing Program. I remember holding that long-awaited manila envelope in my hand, shaking, hesitant to open it. I sat in my car, in this parking lot, took a deep breath and began to peel the corners of the sealed edges back ever so slowly. I pulled out the paper inside as if it were the most fragile thing ever held within my hands and read the word ‘congratulations’ – instant tears.
When people say, “Kiss your loved one’s goodbye, you won’t see them for two years once you’ve been accepted into the nursing program”, they weren’t kidding. It has been a very long, tiring, rewarding, overwhelming, gratifying, winding road. For the next two years I would eat sleep and breathe lectures and clinicals. Mount Wachusett Community College meant commitment and sacrifice. Not just my own. My children sacrificed their time. Many nights I had to complete schoolwork instead of attend sports practice. I was reporting to the hospital floors instead of my usual volunteer hours at their schools. I was accompanying my patients to procedures instead of my children on their field trips. My family often had to settle for overtired and studying on the couch mom instead of the one who was up for a movie and boardgame. My friends? To them I offer my sincerest apologies for not returning that text they sent a couple years back. Yes, I am still alive, I’m well, and would love to grab lunch. While I am here for myself and for my family, I am deeply touched by all of you sitting before me. I know what you had to do to get here, to this day, this moment. I am sure you have endured challenges of your own, but what matters is that we pushed through them. All of us graduates and our supporters have made genuinely unselfish sacrifices. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to mine.
As I proceeded in completing my credits, Mount Wachusett became my confidence. I began to realize, hey, I’m pretty good at this student thing! Let’s give credit where its due. The advising center to answer our course questions, student accounts to keep track of our requirements. Financial Aid and its wonderful scholarship opportunities. Our amazing professors with such vast knowledge and their ability to implement the teaching of it to thousands of students on a daily basis. The convenience of multiple campus locations and new science centers. Our onsite library and student center. The cafeteria with those delicious sweets and treats we indulge ourselves in after our exams, the list goes on. This school was a supportive backbone and stood you tall even on the days where you didn’t feel like you could take another step. There is always an open door with someone to turn to, someone to listen, someone to help. Mount Wachusett became my answer to the question ‘what if’? Not what if I fail at what I set out to accomplish with all the cards stacked against me, but what if I don’t? What if I have a support system so amazing that I begin to accomplish things I had previously only dreamed of? Mount Wachusett is that inner voice you hear ever so slightly in your ear at the times you need it most say, “you can do this.” Allow me to be the voice which resonates with you today, reminding you “it’s never too late”.
To my fellow students I ask of you this: Yes, more homework. Ready? Repeat after me: I BELIEVE IN MYSELF. Thank you, you all get an A. Keep believing in yourselves. That’s all it takes. Have trust in yourself to know that you are going to continue and accomplish many more great things. Replace ‘I can’t’ with ‘I will’, one task at a time. Continue taking those first steps as they will always propel you forward. Mount Wachusett has not only impacted my life, it has changed it. Everyone needs a “why” as sometimes it is the only thing that makes the “how” bearable. If you’re not quite sure what your “why” is yet, take a few moments over the next several days to think about it. It’s there, so find it. My ‘why’ are my boys, ages eleven and fifteen. One is away on his own adventure at natures classroom, and the other sitting here with us in the audience – a future dual enrollment student at Mount Wachusett Community College. I have earned role model status, with my son following in my footsteps. One day I hope to see his name on those golden award plaques lining our hallway beneath mine. I couldn’t be prouder of them and I hope today that they are proud of me.
Our education here has meant perseverance and success. It now serves as a reminder that we took the risk and here we are today blessed with a fruitful reward. I encourage you today and every day to take the risk. Sometimes you need a breather and that’s okay. Take a breath, have your moment, and then keep going. No, it’s not easy – but it’s worth it. Sometimes what you are most afraid of doing is the very thing that will set you free.
Today Mount Wachusett Community College shifts from our present to our past and will forever remain the foundation to the mountains in which we will continue climbing. It is bittersweet saying goodbye to all of you so instead I will say good luck – not that you will need it. I am thankful to have met you, delighted to have studied with you, and honored to be graduating alongside you.
In closing I would like to share a quote with you by Steve Jobs.
“Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”