Author: Gloria Schoeberle, 1st Year Adviser serving Reidsville High School
Chancellor Folt stepped out of the car and onto the sidewalk of Reidsville High School. Wearing her sharp navy suit, complete with a Carolina pin and a smile, she looked like a living photo from a UNC-Chapel Hill admissions pamphlet. We whisked her inside to a small reception where she spoke with local politicians, funders and community members. She received each person with a handshake and an energetic introduction, the picture-perfect representative from the best university in North Carolina.
As I watched her interact with a roomful of Rockingham County’s most influential people, I became excited that my students would get to hear a speech from such a high-profile and magnificently successful individual – someone who is of celebrity status in the state of North Carolina.
But I was wrong. My students did not hear a speech from a celebrity that day. Instead, they received a genuine message from a down-to-earth and encouraging individual. Someone who was as excited to be there as they were. Someone whose educational journey had humble beginnings.
Chancellor Folt could have enumerated her list of accolades, which likely goes on for days. She could have targeted her speech to the other adults in the room, many of whom are affluent, influential individuals. She could have spoken of her first eventful months as the chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill. Instead, she looked out over a sea of low-income, under-represented and first-generation high school seniors and told them she began her educational journey at a community college.
I could see the shockwave of surprise move through the audience as Chancellor Folt went on to explain that she made the decision to start at community college in order to save money and that she worked her way through college, most notably at an establishment called the Big Belly Deli. As she continued to describe her educational progression and how she advanced to each subsequent level, I could almost feel the barriers coming down. No longer did she appear to my students as someone from the faraway fairyland of Academia, a land to which they feel they don’t belong. She was now a real person. She was now like them.
Many of my students will start out at community college. Some of them will choose this route for financial reasons, some for academic reasons. Whatever their rationale behind this decision, I am always met with this statement during one-on-one meetings: “I guess I’m just going to community college.” Just. As though community college is not a viable option for continuing one’s education and bettering one’s self. Though I have promoted the merit and prestige of community college programs until I am blue in the face, many of my students still had a stigmatized view of such institutions until they heard Chancellor Folt speak. She opened up a plethora of previously unimaginable possibilities for them. If Chancellor Folt started at community college and went on to obtain a four-year degree, a master’s degree and a PhD, why can’t they? If chancellor Folt started at community college and became the chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill, why can’t they? If Chancellor Folt can work her way to the top, why can’t they?
And, truly, why can’t they? They can. And, because of Chancellor Folt, her uplifting message and her shining example, they have proof that they can.
Read more here: You can do it!