"We accept students under any circumstances and meet them where they are, determine what they need, empower them to see their own potential, guide them on their educational journey, and stand proudly with them at graduation. Student by student, this is how you build an educated society."
Holyoke Community College officially installed Christina Royal as its fourth president today during inauguration ceremonies held in the Leslie Phillips Theater.
Below are highlights from her inaugural address.
Inaugural address of HCC president Christina Royal:
We are here to celebrate the start of the next chapter at Holyoke Community College. I am here with great intention, excited to be part of HCC and our Commonwealth's Community College system. Community colleges represent one of the greatest innovations in contemporary American higher education.
The concept emerged from a convergence of several factors, including the standardization of secondary education, the establishment of teacher education as a legitimate profession, the increase of continuing education and adult learning, both products of a post-World War II shift, the rise of the research university, and the desire for open access post-secondary education.
The reason why this experiment, initially known as junior colleges, has been around since the early 1900s is rooted in one fundamental premise - every individual deserves the opportunity for an education.
This principle is central to our commitment to student success and to ensuring that an affordable, extraordinary education is within reach for everyone.
HCC's mission and commitment to access, equity, success, and affordability is deeply personal to me. I am a first generation college student and grew up in a low-income bi-racial family. No one in my immediate family graduated from college. No one. I literally had no concept of college, and no one to give me a perspective on it. How do you know what you don't know?
But I did know this: if I wanted to create a future that was less burdensome than the one my parents had, I needed to do something differently. Not knowing the particulars, I made a decision that college was my gateway to a more prosperous life.
My family did not have the financial means to support my education. Tuition and fees were paid by Pell and other grants, a presidential scholarship, work study opportunities, and student loans. When my family dropped me off at college, we were thinking that I was set for the first year, only to arrive and find out that I needed another $400 for books for my first semester. We just didn't have it.
We didn't realize that we would have to pay separately for textbooks, every semester, or how costly they would be.
Our students have many similar stories that shape not only WHY they want to pursue an education, but why they choose to come to Holyoke Community College:
• Our tuition and fees are among the lowest in the state.
• We have award winning faculty and staff.
• HCC's Gateway to College program ranks #1 among 41 colleges across 21 states.
• This College ranks among the top 11 colleges in the nation in pay equity for women and minority administrators.
• The prestigious Aspen Institute named HCC as one of six community colleges in the nation whose preparation for transfer places students on the fast track to a bachelor's degree.
• HCC is ranked number one as the only college in the country for its inter-institutional Learning Community collaboration with select liberal arts colleges.
• We have strong business and industry partnerships, and some of our most successful stories are of individuals going from skills training to jobs. For example, this past year over 200 Nursing Assistants and Pharmacy Technicians were placed into employment with over a dozen health care and pharmacy partners.
The culture at HCC can be defined as a "Students First" mindset, and faculty and staff are the essential reasons why students choose HCC. For example, a student named J.R. is a high school dropout who at one time didn't think he'd make it to age 21. J.R. took classes at the Adult Learning Center in downtown Holyoke. He credits his teacher, Allison Reid, with opening the door to college for him. He says he was stunned when Allison told him he was intelligent. No teacher had ever told him that. J.R. enrolled at HCC and he soared. A learning community with professors Nicole Hendricks and Mary Orisich had a profound impact on him, and he took every class he could with Professor Tracy Ross, who nurtured a growing interest in sociology and social problems. J.R. was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, became a member of the Green Key Society, and joined our Admissions department's Team Inspire, mentoring students at Dean Tech. J.R. is currently a student at Amherst College, studying sociology.
If Holyoke Community College can be ascribed a single core value, it would be "equal access to education for all." HCC has its origins in what was once considered the radical idea to offer college level courses to working adults. In the early years of the 20th Century, faculty from Amherst, Smith and Mount Holyoke colleges, together with what is now the University of Massachusetts and Springfield College, organized to offer classes throughout the Pioneer Valley. During the 1920s and 30s, hundreds of classes were taught, and a movement began to establish a college for adults. By the mid 1940s, as veterans returned from the war to take advantage of the GI Bill, the Holyoke Graduate School was formed, and began offering evening classes in Holyoke High School. When Massachusetts enacted legislation permitting municipal higher education institutions to be called junior colleges, the Holyoke School Committee changed our name to Holyoke Junior College.
Unlike other municipal junior colleges, which were almost exclusively staffed by secondary school teachers, Holyoke Junior College students were taught by distinguished faculty from the founding area colleges, such as Amherst, Smith and Mount Holyoke. In fact, by the 1950s, Holyoke Junior College boasted a greater percentage of Ph.D.s on its faculty than the most prestigious colleges in Massachusetts. In a valley filled with elite colleges that, at the time, primarily educated the sons and daughters of our nation's more privileged citizens, here was an institution where working people received the very best education, a theme we've continued to this day. The belief that all people deserve access to the highest quality education is one that runs deep in our egalitarian veins.
On July 1, 1964, Holyoke Junior College joined the state college system and was renamed Holyoke Community College. Within a few years, the college was able to add full-time faculty, expand its curriculum and attract a growing body of students by offering day and evening courses. In the fall of 1967, HCC moved into an impressive building that had been completely renovated, at a cost to the state of $1.5 million dollars. Four months later, it burned to the ground.
The fire that took place on January 4, 1968, was a pivotal moment for HCC. There was a strong sense among college administrators, faculty and board members that the Commonwealth would prefer to merge the college with the newly created Springfield Technical Community College. Holyoke's mayor William Taupier joined with business, education, and civic leaders to ensure that the college remained in Holyoke. The day after the fire, Mayor Taupier, on his own, took an option for the city to buy land where a campus could be built. Holyoke residents flooded the governor's office with letters urging that the college be rebuilt in Holyoke.
The passion and pride the community felt for Holyoke Community College is why we are in this room, and on this land today, the site of what was once the Sheehan dairy farm. Other two-year colleges had been established in the Commonwealth, but ours was the first, and its roots, its history, its mission, engendered a fierce loyalty in the community we served.
Our community understands that HCC is critical to the success of this region and the State. The fire demonstrated our collective spirit of steadfastness, resiliency and transformation - and our rise from the ashes to re-invent ourselves, stronger, and with fireproof buildings, all the while demonstrating perseverance for the sake of our students and communities.
My first piece of artwork procured in Holyoke was at the Celebrate Holyoke event in August. It is a photograph of 12 different front doors in Holyoke. I recall staring at the photo, thinking about it as a metaphor for higher education.
Holyoke Community College is a transformative place of learning. The doors we open for students are tangible, such as making connections with teachers and staff or opening doors to internship opportunities. These are the applied measures of the doors we open: student success rates, college completion rates; job placement rates post-graduation.
But the most profound doors we open for students are the ones in their minds. When our students come to believe in themselves and their own potential; when they know in their very soul that they are just as capable as everyone else, then, truly, anything is possible.
It is easy to equate education with enrollment projections, credits sold, retention and completion...because this is the way the public holds higher education accountable. But these numbers reveal very little about the way in which HCC transforms the lives of our students. As educators, we specialize in cultivating and nurturing human capital. The only true measure of awakening a student from within is to see the footprint that they leave on their communities, their families, and the world.
Take for instance, Sam. Sam battled addiction, homelessness, and bipolar disorder. He worked as a machine operator, customer service rep, food broker, and garbage sorter. He ran a cleaning business, first in Puerto Rico, and later, in Massachusetts, where he settled. A meeting with Mary Martone, an advisor for HCC's Adult Basic Education and Transition to College & Careers programs, led him to this program. From there, he enrolled in HCC's free summer STEM Starter Academy, and, in the fall of 2015, he enrolled full time at HCC, where he was a recipient of a National Science Foundation STEM Scholarship. Today Sam is a member of the HCC Military Club and the STEM Club. He is a STEM mentor and ambassador, a chemistry tutor and lab technician, who plans to double major in chemistry and environmental science and transfer to a four-year school to get his bachelor's degree, with the goal of being an environmental chemist.
The concept of education and how we measure success needs to change because employers have different needs, the jobs are different, and the students are different. More than half of our students attend part time. Half are low-income. Community college students-our students-struggle to balance college with job and family responsibilities. They are among the most vulnerable members of our community, which makes their successes and triumphs that much more significant. But the pathway to figuring out your purpose in life is not always so clearly defined in an academic plan. Because making mistakes, failing, learning unexpected lessons, and shifting your direction in life are all part of the journey.
Jasmine is one such student. She dropped out of HCC at 19, after failing her classes. Homeless, she battled drugs and alcohol. At 23 she got sober, and shortly after, gave birth to her son. Intent on making a life for herself and her son, she returned to HCC, where she found a mentor in Pathways Coordinator Irma Medina. Jasmine began her studies as a Foundations of Heath major, intending to go on to nursing school, but a course in medical anthropology illuminated a new path, one that fused all of the disciplines that she loved.
I met Jasmine shortly after I became president of HCC. She had earned high honors, was a volunteer with the Prison Birth Project and taught childbirth education classes at the Hampden County Women's Correctional Facility in Chicopee. I had the honor of joining her at the State House in Boston last spring, where she was one of "29 Who Shine," an annual event that recognizes the academic achievements and community service of one student from each of the 29 public colleges and universities in Massachusetts.
She is currently at Mount Holyoke College, studying medical anthropology. Her dream is to some day run a community health clinic that offers comprehensive reproductive care and other services to low-income women and those struggling with substance abuse.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "The test of our progress is not whether we add to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide for those who have too little."
We serve one fundamental purpose: we create the conditions for learning to occur. We do this by creating a highly diverse ecosystem of learners from all walks of life. We do this by creating opportunities and an environment for students to question themselves, to question the roles they play in their communities, to question their contributions to society, and to question what's important to them.
We accept students under any circumstances and meet them where they are, determine what they need, empower them to see their own potential, guide them on their educational journey, and, stand proudly with them at graduation.
And, student by student, this is how you build an educated society.
While community colleges play an indispensable role in public higher education, there are some significant challenges ahead. Food insecurity. Homelessness. Mental health issues. Transportation. Affordability. Equity. Success. Completion. But the greatest threat to the mission of open access education is the concern about losing our societal perspective of education as a public good. While I think the next decade will bring about a lot of change, some disruptive, to community colleges and higher education in general, I also believe the best years are ahead of us.
As I have come to learn over the past 10 months about the incredible history of this institution, innovation is the thread that binds our past and our future. Holyoke Community College was birthed in innovation, in creating something new, the two-year college concept.
As we move expeditiously into the future, I want to leave you with some final thoughts.
We remain steadfast in our commitment to creating life-changing experiences for our students. Most students are here because they want to grow and change. They don't come here to remain the same. They come here to be seen and encouraged, and to engage with people with whom they do not cross paths on a regular basis. They come to understand their limits and be stretched beyond them. They come to awaken what has laid dormant in them for months or decades.
They come to be inspired about how they can affect change in their families and communities. And they come to make sense of what is happening in the world, and how they process it.
We remain committed to diversity, which is our greatest strength and contributes substantially to why students receive a great education at HCC. We will continue to strengthen our impact as a Hispanic Serving Institution. The diversity of our students, faculty, and staff, and our intentional focus on inclusion, contributes to our greatness and enhances the quality of our students' experiences. A focus on equity and student success will allow the promise of education to become the reality: that community colleges are the great equalizers of education. The doors are open to all, and all can succeed.
We have students from over 70 communities in the region and remain committed to reaching them wherever they are. We are working with dozens of school districts and our outreach continues to grow with a focus on those most in need. ESOL has expanded in Holyoke, Ludlow and Springfield. The HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute will give the College a second location in downtown Holyoke, in addition to our Picknelly Adult and Family Education Center. This will give us a strong workforce development presence in an area of high unemployment. In the same regard we have recently opened the Education to Employment Center in partnership with the Quaboag Valley Community Development Corporation in Ware, Massachusetts.
For the past four years we have worked closely with MGM Springfield in order to provide a ready workforce for their $1 Billion resort planned for Springfield. The MCCTI, MA Casino Careers Training Institute Gaming School, operating under TWO, Training & Workforce Options in partnership with STCC, will provide skills training in gaming related occupations for the unemployed and underemployed.
We will continue to set the bar high, seeking to lift HCC as a model community college in the nation, while serving the students in our local communities and meeting them where they are, with the varied and complex circumstances they each bring with them to our doorstep.
Lastly, while we are co-creating the future with our faculty, staff, students, trustees, foundation, business leaders, and community members, we will keep reinventing ourselves for the betterment of our students. Learn. Unlearn. Relearn. Let's continue to grow and change, as we encourage our students to do, but with our core commitments in mind: access, equity, success, and affordability.
Today and every day, we celebrate a proud past and a bright future. Holyoke Community College is not a student's last stop. We are their first choice.
PHOTOS by CHRIS YURKO: (Thumbnail) HCC student trustee Jonathan Jasmin congratulates Christina Royal after putting the presidential medallion around her neck, completing her inauguration as the fourth president of Holyoke Community College. (Above) HCC president Christina Royal receives applause after completing her inauguration address during ceremonies in the Leslie Phillips Theater.