To a Higher Degree: Moving forward, together

·4 min read

In higher education, we have what we refer to as the 100 days of May. Think of the frenetic dash two days before Christmas and spread that out over the course of about a month and you will have a sense of how the end of the year comes together on a college campus.  We have finals and capstones and ceremonies to bring closure to the end of an academic year that’s filled with highs, lows and all parts in between for students and employees.

For St. Cloud Technical & Community College, our high note was hit earlier this month when we awarded over 860 degrees and certificates to students at our 73rd Annual Commencement Ceremony. This was a major milestone for our graduates and a welcomed contrast to how we celebrated last year, with COVID-related protocols preventing us from rejoicing and honoring our students and their families in person.

St. Cloud Technical & Community College President Annesa Cheek
St. Cloud Technical & Community College President Annesa Cheek

On a different note, it is bittersweet that this will be my final contribution to this column.  After four years as president at SCTCC, I have accepted a new assignment at a community college in Maryland, beginning in July.

My opportunity to serve the extraordinary students at SCTCC has indeed been a gift. I often acknowledge that under the right conditions all students can succeed and that it is our job to create the right conditions. While I will miss continuing to cultivate “the right conditions” at SCTCC, I am heartened to know that our students are in the good hands of a stellar administrative, educational and service team at the college and supported by a community that encourages and promotes them.

In my final column, while it would be tempting and customary to review a list of all the accomplishments during my tenure as SCTCC’s president, that is not the goal here.  The accomplishments achieved during my tenure at SCTCC are an aggregate of the work of our dedicated employee team and reflected in the success and achievements of our students. Their individual stories are the truest measure of the learning environment we strive to nurture and sustain.

At our recent Academic Excellence & Achievement Celebration, students acknowledged SCTCC for helping them gain skills they will use throughout their lives, for being accessible and affordable, for helping them to get a better-paying job, for reminding them at multiple junctures of their academic journey that they could do it, and for encouraging them to keep pursuing their dreams. SCTCC was there for them, just as it should be.

The broader statement I will make about SCTCC’s accomplishments rests with the community that has for more than 70 years been a champion of bringing two-year higher education opportunities to the residents of the St. Cloud region. SCTCC, and all that it represents, is a community accomplishment and I am honored to have played a small part in its long and rich history.

As my tenure at the college draws to a close, I offer these thoughts about moving forward, together:

First, speaking as someone who moved to this community from out of state, it is imperative that our community continue to open its arms wider to welcome those from different parts of the country and the world who want to call the St. Cloud region home. Understanding and supporting those from different lands, cultures, races, faiths, backgrounds and ideologies is critical to fostering an environment that is cultivating and growing talent and ensuring a strong, regenerative and vibrant workforce and economy.

Second, embrace the sentiment of Nobel laureate and singer/songwriter Bob Dylan’s anthem, "Times, they are a changin’," because as singer/songwriter Sam Cooke reminded us, "Change is gonna come."

The ability of our community to be agile in meeting the needs of its residents, its businesses and its future is paramount to the prosperity of the region. If nothing else, the global pandemic of the last two years has taught us that we can do things in different ways and still hold on to the core of what we believe and value. Continuing to be agile and adaptive will be a hallmark of St. Cloud’s future success.

And third, support growth and learning. One of the things I’m most proud of as president of SCTCC is that the college is no longer a secret in plain sight. We have worked to engage our broader community in our efforts and bring value to our region. Unwavering, bedrock support for education and learning – at all ages and during all phases – is the driver to social mobility, economic prosperity and sustainable living for generations to come. So, I encourage learning and the support of learning in any way by everyone.

Saying goodbye to a community that my family and I have made our home for the last four years comes with great emotion. I want to thank all those within this community who have supported me personally and professionally, and who have enriched my life and supported the work of St. Cloud Technical and Community College. I wish you and this great community nothing but the very best as we turn the page and start a new chapter in our respective stories.

— This is the opinion of St. Cloud Technical and Community College President Dr. Annesa Cheek. To A Higher Degree is published the fourth Sunday of the month and features the presidents of the four largest Central Minnesota higher education institutions.

This article originally appeared on St. Cloud Times: To a Higher Degree: Moving forward, together