PEARL– Brandie Schommer’s degree was a family project, according to her husband.
Schommer, 35, of Madison graduated from Hinds Community College on Thursday, Dec. 13 with a degree in practical nursing. She already had a Hinds degree from 2006 in surgical technology.
“It was very hard. I cried a lot, and I wanted to give up often. I kept pushing myself. It was well worth it,” she said. “I really love helping people. That’s where my heart is.”
Husband Lester Schommer and children Leia, 11, and Bayleigh,16, were supportive. “My mom said, “When she graduates, y’all all ought to get a degree,’ ” said Lester Schommer, laughing. “If she wasn’t at school studying, she was in a coffee shop or in the extra room turned into a study hall.”
On Dec. 13 during three ceremonies, Hinds Community College awarded 1,337 degrees or certificates to 912 graduates, with some graduates receiving more than one credential. Of the 912 fall graduates, 182 achieved cum laude, 3.2 to 3.59 grade point average; 112 achieved magna cum laude, 3.6 to 3.99 GPA and 81 achieved summa cum laude, 4.0 grade point average.
Hinds President Dr. Clyde Muse noted that the college’s goal is essentially the same as when it was founded in 1917. “Our cost is low. Our quality is high,” he said. “Some things do not change.”
Dan Fuller, an English instructor at the Utica Campus who has been named the faculty HEADWAE honoree, was the speaker for all three ceremonies.
Fuller used the story of the 1903 founding of the Utica Institute, an HBCU (Historically Black College and University), by Tuskegee graduate William Holtzclaw as a guideline to talk to graduates on the themes of persisting, finding one’s passion and dealing with pain. The Utica Institute eventually became the Utica Campus of Hinds Community College after a federal court order merged two colleges merged in 1982.
Fuller noted that Holtzclaw tried three times to found a college for black students in Mississippi before he finally succeeded in Utica in rural Hinds County. “He persevered, even when the going wasn’t easy,” Fuller said. “As you continue with your careers, you’ll run into roadblocks, no doubt. And we often say that sometimes life closes doors, but you know something that all doors have is a handle. Sometimes a closed door doesn’t mean quit, but rather, turn the knob and push your way through.”
Holtzclaw was able to expand the college because his board of trustees was willing to take personal risk, he said.
“His board of trustees felt so passionate about the work that they pledged their farms and homes to secure the purchase of the property, even without the promise of outside funding. The personal risk that these men took to risk everything they owned shows the kind of passion that makes life worth living,” Fuller said. “So I ask you, what are you passionate about? What’s the thing that if you can’t do, your heart would break? Do that thing and do it well.”
Holtzclaw founded the group now known as the Utica Jubilee Singers to travel in the North and help raise money for the school. The first year, the group was stranded at a train station in the cold and the choir director later died after falling ill from the experience.
“The tragedy could have broken the fledgling enterprise, but Holtzclaw was able to deal with the pain of this loss by looking to the larger dream, even when life didn’t go according to his plan,” he said. “Some of you have gone through tremendous personal pain to make it here today and all of us will face adversity at some point in the future. The relationships you have built during your time here, along with those of your friends and family, can be a source of strength to you when the road gets difficult.”
Fuller closed his remarks to graduates by reminding them that “education is a lifelong journey.”
“This doesn’t have to be the end of your association with Hinds. We urge you to become involved with your Hinds Alumni Association. Come back to the college and share with future students what you’re learning in your future careers,” he said.
As Mississippi’s largest community college, Hinds Community College is a comprehensive institution offering quality, affordable educational opportunities with academic programs of study leading to seamless university transfer and career and technical programs teaching job-ready skills. With six locations in central Mississippi, Hinds enrolls about 12,000 students each fall semester. To learn more, visit www.hindscc.edu or call 1.800.HindsCC.
Cathy Hayden is a 30-year career journalist with a bachelor's degree in journalism and English from the University of Mississippi and a master of theological studies from Spring Hill College in Mobile. Hayden, who covered education at The Clarion-Ledger for 17 years, came to Hinds Community College in January 2007.