Old, new come together at BTC commencement
BELOIT On Saturday, more than 500 students crossed the stage at First Christian Church in Beloit during Blackhawk Technical College’s commencement.
They included fresh-faced youths and second- or third-career adults. They were single men and women without ties; they were parents and grandparents. They wore dress shoes and flip-flops.
All different kinds of people with one thing in common: They were continuing the technical college tradition that started 100 years ago when Wisconsin established a Board of Vocational and Adult Education.
It was appropriate that Saturday’s ceremony was a blend of old values and traditions with new ideas and trends.
-- History repeating itself: College President Dr. Thomas Eckert reminded students that Blackhawk was first established because the state recognized the need for trained workers to meet manufacturing demands. Today, manufacturing is seeing a resurgence in the state, and the health care and technical fields are as strong as ever.
-- Looking back—but only for a moment: Silvia Shephard, a legal administrative professional and the student of the year, was the student speaker.
“When I was working on this speech, I looked for words of wisdom from past graduation speakers,” Shephard said.
But after attending a leadership conference, she decided hers was the class of the future: forward looking and unafraid.
She encouraged students spend just a moment thinking about their ultimate dreams, their goals for their lives.
Then she said, “Now let go of everything you think might stand in its way.”
Don’t let those dreams collect dust the shelves of busy lives, Shephard advised.
-- Tradition and change: Keynote speaker Thomas Westrick has served on Blackhawk Technical College’s board for 19 years and has spent his life working in the field of adult education.
He took a look at the early days of technical college education and shared with students some of the early educational choices such as “fountain pen tip grinding,” “cobbling” and “child psychology”—a course only offered to women.
“Police problems” was another early course.
“I’d like to see the reading list for that course,” Westrick joked.
Westrick noted that only a few of those early courses, such as “arc welding” and “automobile engine repair,” were still around.
“Blackhawk Technical College has had to reinvent itself numerous times,” Westrick said. “You may have to redesign yourselves, too.”
Unlike the job market of the 20th century, when workers often worked for the same company all of their lives, often with the same set of skills, today’s workers will have to continue to learn.
He offered students advice from Reid Hoffman, author of “The Start Up of You:”
-- Don’t let the title of your degree or your certificate put you in a box.
-- Build relationships both inside and outside of your field.
-- Prepare for change.
Finally, don’t get caught in your past.
-- New careers and new choices: Students graduated with degrees in a variety of traditional subjects ranging from accounting to welding.
Some of the traditionally female fields, such as early childhood education, continue to produce only female graduates. Other traditionally male fields, such as electric power distribution and air conditioning, heating and refrigeration technology, produced only male graduates.
Still, evidence of changing career choices were all over the program. Two women graduated from the welding program. Men graduated in a variety of health care fields.
-- An old-fashioned rendering: In the past two decades, attempts to “improve” the national anthem have become increasingly disconcerting. “The Star Spangled Banner” has been jazzed up, countrified, rocked and whooped with mixed success.