Kirsten Kersey is the kind of person you feel like you’ve known for a long time. She’s friendly, with an endearing smile. Her honesty, insightfulness, and curiosity are striking. It’s easy to see that she is well-suited for her chosen career path—working in youth services, where relationship-building is key—and also why she was a clear pick for student speaker at CCV’s 2022 commencement.

A self-described perfectionist, Kirsten says her high school experience was defined by the singular desire to get good grades. “Learning was not learning for the joy of acquiring knowledge…I was doing the assignments to get As, not to learn the material.” She knew she wanted to go to college, but health issues interrupted her high school education. “So my options for going to a four-year school were limited.” She had her sights set on UVM or a Vermont State College, and she knew CCV could help her get there. When she visited CCV-Upper Valley, she liked the way it felt. Most importantly, her classes provided relief from the need to be perfect. “When I came to CCV there was more of a focus on just learning, and being okay to make mistakes and ask questions. I became very comfortable with asking questions when I didn’t understand something or even answering questions when I wasn’t sure I had the answer correct.”

It’s that joy of learning, she says, that motivated her to excel academically. “I’m so happy I ended up going to CCV. It’s been one of my favorite things that’s happened in my life.” 

Last fall, Kirsten completed a certificate in allied health preparation and an associate degree in behavioral science. She has nothing but good things to say about her CCV experience—the support from her advisors, the enthusiasm of her instructors, and most of all, the informal education she received from fellow students. “[I was] learning a lot about strength and resilience” from her peers, she said, “and just meeting some amazing people who didn’t take the typical go-straight-to-college-after-high-school [route]…these people had life experiences. There were parents, there were people from the military, there were people with health conditions such as myself, and they all just kind of had a joy about them too, to be learning. I just have so much respect for the student body.”

Kirsten says one of the things she values most about her time at CCV is the network it’s helped her build in the broader community. She’s currently managing a local vintage clothing store. At CCV, she participated in Access Days for middle school students, as well as Green Up Day. In 2019, she did an internship at the since-shuttered Junction Youth Center (where her advisor was a fellow CCV student and fellow 2022 graduate). The closure of the Youth Center left a big hole in the Upper Valley community, one that Kirsten worked to fill by spearheading the Hartford Youth Council. Though that project has left her feeling drained at times, she remains motivated to pursue a career in youth services. Working with teenagers is rewarding, she says, because “you can still encourage them to be a kid, but you can also be there for them as they’re discovering who they are…and I think it’s just such a gift to be present for that.”

Is she nervous about speaking in front of a big crowd at commencement? A little. But it’s a joyful day, she says—and she plans to keep that front and center. Mostly, she wants to celebrate her peers and their accomplishments. “I can count on one hand the number of students who were just doing CCV,” she says. “And so working through college while supporting a life outside of college, as well as working through a pandemic, is an achievement. These people have gotten their associate, and once you get it, you have that associate forever.” In her remarks, she wants to share “just how wonderful CCV has been and how impressed I am with the resilience of the students there, and just how incredible they are for teaching me without even trying to.”

On June 4, CCV will celebrate commencement in person for the first time since 2019. Kirsten will address her classmates at Norwich University in Northfield, where more than 3,000 Vermonters typically gather each June to honor CCV’s graduates. She’ll be joined by keynote speaker Dr. Wanda Heading-Grant, vice provost for diversity, equity, and inclusion and chief diversity officer at Carnegie Mellon University. Dr. Heading-Grant also holds a faculty appointment as distinguished service professor in the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy at CMU.

HireAbility Vermont director Diane Dalmasse will receive this year’s Community Service Award, and faculty members Allison Dean, Telly Halkias, and Melanie Meyer will be recognized with the Teaching Excellence Award.

What: CCV’s 2022 Commencement

When: Saturday, June 4, 2 p.m.

Where: Norwich University, Northfield, Vermont

Learn More:

Dr. Wanda Heading-Grant
Dr. Wanda Heading-Grant, inaugural Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), Chief Diversity Officer, and Distinguished Service Professor in the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University.

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