Portrait of President Dr. Christine Sobek
Christine J. Sobek, Ed.D.

I was drawn to a career in higher education because of the power of education to change lives. I was drawn to a career in community colleges because nowhere else within higher education is this transformative power so evident. In the coming weeks, thousands of students will arrive on one of Waubonsee’s four campuses to begin or continue their academic journey. Many of them are first-generation students and many are part of a long family line of college students. Many will attend class full-time, others part-time.

Each one of these students has a unique story that we can all learn from and be inspired by. This summer, our board of trustees recognized Moji Ayorinde, a 2017 Waubonsee graduate who was at one time homeless while raising three of her children and is now a nurse. Cynthia Garcia, a first-generation student who completed her associate degree in just one year through the accelerated Dunham Fund QuickPath Degree Program, graduated from Waubonsee in May and is about to continue her education in accounting at Northern Illinois University.

These students, and countless others like them, have changed their lives forever through the power of education. And not just their lives, but the lives of their current and future children, as well as others around them. The skills they developed benefit area employers and our communities.

Statistics prove over and over again that people who earn a college degree or certificate earn more money than those who do not go to college. However, that is not the only reason to go to college. As was published in a letter to the editor in the Chicago Tribune in April, students in college classrooms

“…are learning the importance of civil, evidence-based discourse to the continued strength of our democracy. By insisting on conversations of substance and diverse viewpoints aimed at reaching if not consensus then compromise, faculty are preparing the women and men who will lead our nation and our world in the coming decades.”

It is the experience of learning that makes the most profound difference in our lives. The ability to see and understand a different point of view, even if we do not agree with it, is important to society. It is what makes better leaders in our communities and the companies we work for. Yes, the return on investment in education is often financial in the form of higher wages, but that is certainly not the only return on the investment in college. College graduates have the experience of learning that in itself changes lives.

For those going to college this month—whether for the first time or as a continuing student—you’ve made a good choice. You will not regret the decision. In fact, decide now to finish. Even if this your first semester of college, commit now to working through to the completion of your degree or certificate. There will be challenges and distractions along your way, but you can overcome them. There are many resources available at Waubonsee and in the community to help you.

I am reminded of the quote attributed to Charles Burnham. As we start a new academic year together, I invite you to think about these words that have inspired countless other large adventures:

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency.

I encourage all of our students to make big plans this year. I look forward to reading your inspiring stories as the chapters unfold.