As a crowd packed to capacity with their family, friends, loved ones and supporters cheered and applauded from the audience, nearly 650 graduates walked across the Sports Arena stage to receive associate degrees and certificates of completion at the 2017 Spring Commencement.
“You cannot imagine how proud we are,” said Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown. “As you move forward, know that this is not the end of your journey; it’s the beginning. It’s the time where you begin to think about your next steps, and I would ask you also to remember those that will follow you. You have blazed a trail for them. Thank you for what you’ve accomplished, and for what you’ve done for those that will follow you because of the successes you have earned.”
In their keynote address to the Class of 2017, sisters Tina Pennington and Mandy Williams — better known as “Red” and “Black,” respectively — encouraged the graduates to remember that some of the greatest blessings come from the most difficult and challenging situations. They learned that lesson firsthand after Red’s husband was fired from his job and she turned to her sister for help mastering their family’s finances. Black assured a nervous Red — intimated by financial terminology like “assets and liabilities” — that the job loss and subsequent process of learning about personal finances and how best to rebuild her life would be the best thing to ever happen to her, despite her fears.
Their frank and candid exchanges formed the basis of the best-selling book, “What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!,” which has been adapted into an educational program taught at KIPP Houston High School and incorporated into book study programs at more than 30 percent of Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison units. Along with financial literacy, the sisters also emphasize the importance of soft skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, communication and teamwork.
“Once I started doing personal finance, realized the importance of soft skills and just stopped to think about things, I realized she was right,” Red told the Lee College graduates. “It really was the best thing for me — but more than that, it was the best thing for my daughters and to be able to talk with students like yourselves and others we come across.”
As the first woman to race the road course at Indianapolis, Black used racing analogies to present the students with an essential life choice: being a passenger who lets their life control them, or being a driver who controls their own life.
Remember the important corners on the track and keep the curves in perspective of the bigger picture, she said, and stay in the driver’s seat instead of coasting along.
“Think of all the times you could have quit, all the excuses you could have made, but you kept going. You’ve proved that you are strong and driven,” Black said. “None of us know where our lives are going to take us. Take a deep breath, hold on to the steering wheel and throttle on.”