BIRMINGHAM, AL–In a commencement address at Virginia College, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson espoused the value of postsecondary education, applauding 387 graduates of the career school that specializes in preparing students for careers in health services, business, information technology, personal care, culinary arts, interior design and other fields.
The winter commencement on Sunday, February 20, was one of two held annually at Virginia College of Birmingham. The career school, which has been serving Birmingham students and employers for nearly 30 years, offers more than 24 academic programs that prepare graduates for jobs in the greatest demand among employers.
“This graduation today is cause for another family celebration, enhanced by the fact that 150 of you have already been placed in jobs,” Rev. Jackson told the graduates, their friends and relatives, and the school’s staff and faculty. “Put your hands together. That’s a big deal. These jobs range from culinary and pastry arts to medical assistance, business administration, master’s degrees, accounting specialists and cosmetology…The range of skills for which you have developed is coming into a growing market.”
“I congratulate you because of your passion for education,” he said. “Many of you finished high school long ago and just wouldn’t give up. Strong minds bring strong change. The great tradition of Tuskegee, the spirit of self-reliance and skill development–Booker Washington argued that you should not starve on the farm because you have a dysfunctional education.”
Tom Moore, CEO of Education Corporation of America, which operates Virginia College campuses around the country, as well as other accredited learning institutions, said he was honored to have Rev. Jackson deliver the commencement address. “He has been a strong and vocal supporter of the kind of practical educational alternatives we provide our students. His appreciation of the diversity of our student body and the catalyst we play in their career development is an important message for our students and this entire community.”
Further, Moore expressed his appreciation for Rev. Jackson’s strong support for career colleges as they seek to amend or stop a series of regulatory changes proposed by the US Department of Education that would make it difficult for some for-profit educational institutions to continue operating.
In his address, Rev. Jackson noted that his mother attended an alternative school to learn a trade when he was a child. “My mom went back to school after 10 years of my birth to become a beautician,” he said. “She just wouldn’t–she just wouldn’t give up.”
Rev. Jackson also recalled the economic struggles that other members of his family overcame, some with the help of alternative education. He said one aunt had five children before she was 20 years old, but had a dream of a college education for herself and her children. She worked at a Veterans Hospital at night and sent all five children to college. At age 53, he said she got her GED, earned a community college associate degree four years later, and then proceeded to get her bachelors and master’s degrees.
Proudly pointing out her accomplishments, Rev. Jackson told the graduates it’s about “learning to use what you got–some beautician, some chef, some computer specialist, using what you got. And don’t cry about what you do not have.”
The civil rights leader, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., also talked about the social progress in America and the unification that is needed for the nation to continue moving forward.
“It is such a joy to be with you and family today,” Rev. Jackson said. “Congratulations on this graduation day, the end of one journey, the beginning of another. To look at your faces here today, black and white, male and female, Dr. King would rejoice in looking at this graduation in Birmingham, once a steel and coal industry, then the barbaric division and the violence, and now a kind of calm after the storm. We have learned to survive apart, survive as black, survive as white, survive as brown. Now we have a more difficult challenge than surviving apart: learning to live together. We need each other.
“Today, beyond this college experience, you must fight for an even playing field, public rules and clear goals to make this a better state and a better nation.”