In 1817 Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to George Ticknor, the first professor of modern languages at Harvard College and co-founder of the Boston Public Library, sharing his vision of access to education for all citizens in the fledgling democracy, the United States of America.
Jefferson wrote, “I am now entirely absorbed in endeavors to effect the establishment of a general system of education in my native state ... collegiate institutions for ancient and modern languages, for higher instruction in arithmetic, geography and history, placing for these purposes a college within a day’s ride of every inhabitant of the state, and adding a provision for the full education ...”
These words mark the dreams of a visionary man who believed an educated citizenry would make for a greater democracy and a stronger nation. I believe community colleges are a culmination of Jefferson’s vision for educational access to all constituents.
In the 45 years since its establishment in 1967, Walla Walla Community College has helped citizens of the Walla Walla Valley and beyond achieve Jefferson’s vision of education. Over the years myriads of students have come to WWCC with hopes and dreams to develop scholarship, skills, and earn credentials that would allow them a better future; a better life for themselves and for their families.
Students like Cynthia, who had been homeschooled for her entire elementary and high school educational experience. She came to WWCC not knowing that with her passion to learn she would maintain a nearly 100 percent average in all four calculus courses she took at Walla Walla Community College.
She transferred to Emory University to complete her B.A., and then on to the New School in New York to earn her M.A. and Ph.D. in philosophy. She now lives in Olympia, working as a leader in one of the state departments.
There is Jason, a first-generation college student, quiet and unsure what he could achieve since no one in his family had gone to college. He discovered he had an affinity for languages and after graduation from WWCC transferred to Western Washington University earning his B.A.
His love of language took him to Italy, where he became fluent in Italian, and then to France, where he also developed fluency in French. He now translates French and Italian books to English.
Then here is Matt, an honors student who always asked his instructors the most challenging and compelling questions, just because he was curious and wanted to know.
After graduation Matt’s passion for knowledge took him to the Middle East, where he developed a deep interest in the Yazidi religious minority of the Iraqi Kurdistan. He is now at Columbia University, participating in a special research project called the Hertog Global Strategy Initiative translating Yazidi works in order to record the history of these people.
Thousands of students, unaware of their talents and untried, yet hopeful and seeking to gain knowledge, certificates and degrees have found their pathway to educational attainment at WWCC.
Educational opportunities include academic transfer courses as well as a number of magnet work force programs, such as nursing, fire science, medical assistant, enology and viticulture, wind energy and water ecology.
Classes can be taken in the traditional face-to-face delivery mode, online, hybrid, via interactive television, through web-enhanced media, or in the evening college. Lifelong learning courses can be accessed by seniors in the Quest program, or by youngsters in Kids College.
Working professionals can update their skills and obtain re-certification in specific areas. Parent education classes are available to young parents and pre-school for toddlers and tots.
Garrison Night School is an innovative partnership with the school district allowing non-native English speakers the chance to advance their language skills, obtain a GED and to develop computer literacy.
Students interested in the arts can engage in play productions, operettas, the jazz band, or develop their talent in art classes. The summer musical production allows the college to bring local musical talent to the outdoor stage in a celebration of joy for the entire community.
The possibilities for learning are endless and much of this is due to WWCC’s continuing efforts to be responsive to the learning needs of the people in this beautiful valley.
Jefferson’s “day’s ride” for everyone to a college education has become a reality. There are more than 1,200 community colleges in the United States today, each of which strives to serve its community in its own way. Community colleges in general and Walla Walla Community College in particular are not only a fulfillment of Jefferson’s dream, but also the fulfillment of the dreams and aspirations of thousands of students.
If you have a dream to be something more than you are now, to advance upward mobility, or to hone new skills, let Walla Walla Community College be a part of your dream to build a new future for yourself.
Marleen Ramsey is vice president of instruction at Walla Walla Community College.