CCV wasn’t able to hold its commencement in person this year, but the College is pleased to announce the graduates who have been selected as student speaker and as recipient of this year’s leadership award. At a special joint ceremony in 2021, CCV-Newport graduate Amanda Letourneau will deliver an address to her classmates as student speaker for the Class of 2020, and CCV-Brattleboro graduate T.K. Lahey will receive the 2020 student leadership award.
A Difficult Trip, But So Worth It
CCV graduate Amanda Letourneau considers herself a pretty adventurous person. So last fall, as she was headed into her final semester at CCV, she signed up for the study abroad trip to Belize. The culmination of a Current Environmental Issues class, the trip was slated to include hiking, snorkeling, and paddle boarding; kayaking and swimming; and visiting ancient Mayan ruins. A disclaimer on the course description said students should expect to walk an average of 8 miles a day.
This all sounded great to Amanda, except for one thing: years after being involved in a serious car accident, she made the decision to amputate a leg last September, just before the start of the class. “My first class was ten days after the surgery,” she said. “Everyone was looking at me…I was like ‘don’t worry, I’ll be fine.’”
Amanda first came to CCV almost eight years ago. She was working as a supervisor at the Jay Peak water park and was looking for something new. “I was trying to figure out what I was doing.” She’s held all sorts of jobs: as a babysitter and as an LNA, on farms, at a grocery store. She said a big reason for coming to CCV was “knowing if I did want to move ahead in any job, I would need more of an educational background.”
She completed two semesters at CCV-St. Johnsbury before taking time off from school. A few years after the tragic car accident in 2016, she returned to CCV, this time to the Newport academic center. She says she’d spent four years recuperating and got to a place where it felt like “okay, this is the time to get things restarted. [CCV] gave me something to focus on. It gave me that motivation and drive to be like ‘okay, I’m at least progressing in one way.’”
Amanda took almost all of her classes online but went to the Newport center often. “CCV also offers that in-person support if you need it,” she said. “So the combination of the online and being able to go in and talk to someone if you needed to created a good learning environment for me…It’s been a long process, so it’s been good to have the support of the people who work there encouraging me.” She’s now working toward her bachelor’s degree at Northern Vermont University, and says having one-on-one support from an advisor was a huge benefit while she was navigating the transfer process. “Probably the biggest help was having someone sit down with me who knows me on a personal level, who knows my strengths and weaknesses.”
“I’m not the smartest person in the world but I do have that drive to accomplish things,” she said. “Even if they’re not the easiest things for me. I definitely struggle, but CCV is there and they’ll help you if you ask for it. For me that was what I needed for myself to be like ‘this is what I want to do, how do I do it?’ I needed that validation for myself.”
By the time Amanda traveled to Belize in January, she was four months post-surgery. “It was a very physically demanding trip. I brought my crutches, and took every day with a grain of salt.” It was amazing, she said: She got to experience life in a different country, visit ecosystems she’d never seen before, and meet new people. She swam and snorkeled and hiked and climbed. “It was a difficult trip, absolutely,” she said. “But it was so worth it.”
I Never Looked Back
T.K. Lahey grew up in Brattleboro and went to three different high schools before joining the workforce. He says that coming from a low-income family, college wasn’t in the cards. Two years ago, he was making a good salary as a warehouse manager when he hurt his ankle. “I ended up back at zero,” he said, “as if I’d just gotten out of high school.”
One day soon after, he was walking in downtown Brattleboro and decided to stop at CCV. He went inside and talked to someone at the front desk who helped him get started. “[She] was so helpful and reassuring,” he said. “I never looked back…I didn’t end up looking at any other colleges.”
Though T.K. doesn’t consider himself a natural leader, he quickly became a member of CCV’s Student Advisory and Leadership Council. “The reason I joined was to have more reasons to pop in and be more accountable to the college community as a whole. I wanted to be more involved. I knew the more often I was at school the less likely I was to be flaking.” The group was going through a transition after former leaders graduated, and T.K. says he and a few others had to start from square one. It wasn’t long before they were hosting gatherings at CCV, like potlucks, as well as outreach in the community at farmer’s markets, Green Up Day, and other events. As a CCV student leader, T.K. also helped out at new student orientations and served as a peer mentor.
When asked what motivated him to be so invested in his peers and in his community, he recalled something that had stuck with him since his first days at CCV. “In orientation, I remember hearing the low percentage of students who finish their degrees. I wanted to see if I could raise that number. It’s unfortunate when life kicks you around and you don’t get the chance to finish something that you started.” At one point, a student whom he’d mentored told T.K. that he was the reason he’d persisted and finally graduated from CCV.
Last year, T.K. received one of the College’s Leadership Scholarships, which are given annually to one student from each academic center. The $1,000 award is given in recognition of leadership demonstrated through academics, volunteerism, and community engagement. Students, their advisors, and guests are honored at a luncheon in Montpelier with CCV President Joyce Judy. T.K. says being recognized with the Leadership Scholarship was validating. “It proves that someone appreciates the effort that I put in and that I have talent when it comes to leadership…My effort made it all the way to the president—that’s a big deal.”
This spring, T.K. completed his degree in liberal studies. He says that earning a college degree was “something I wanted to do for me. After high school I felt incomplete. Now I feel more well-rounded. I made a lot of money doing things I hated. I knew this would give me a chance to step back and figure out what I was into.”
T.K. is modest when he talks about his accomplishments, as a student and as a leader; he insists that he owes his successes to the people around him. “There’s a huge support team in Brattleboro. Without them I don’t think I would have been as recognizable. There were 4 or 5 of us [student leaders]…without them I wouldn’t have accomplished what I did.”