Phi Theta Kappa Executive Director Serves as Speaker at Three Commencements

JACKSON, MS – Phi Theta Kappa Executive Director Dr. Rod Risley has been on the road this spring, serving as commencement speaker at Mesa Community College, Arizona, (May 11), Atlantic Cape Community College in New Jersey (May 17) and Santa Fe Community College in New Mexico (May 23).

Dr. Risley met Phi Theta Kappa member Alexandra McMullin during his travels.Dr. Risley met Phi Theta Kappa member Alexandra McMullin during his visit to Mesa Community College.

Dr. Risley received an honorary associate degree from Atlantic Cape Community College.

Dr. Risley met with chapter officers and attended a “Celebration of Service” for the campus’s Service Learning Program before speaking at Mesa Community College’s May 11 Commencement.

“At first I thought I was at a outdoor rock concert, but it was better than that — a commencement held outdoors at night — 525 graduates, a sea of blue gowns, caps, and gold Phi Theta Kappa stoles,” he said.

“It was such an honor and a pleasure to have Dr. Risley as our commencement speaker this year. Many faculty and staff have written to tell me how inspiring and relevant his address was. Many agree that the speech is one of the very best that we have heard over the years,” said Dr. Shouan Pan, President of Mesa Community College. “It is clear that these high praises do not come because of his rhetorical skills, but because he, as a national leader, truly cares about students, is in touch with students and their difficulties and aspirations, is passionate about the role of community college education, and is genuine and inspiring from the heart.”

Among the students Dr. Risley met at the Mesa events was Phi Theta Kappa member Alexandra McMullin, who majored in area studies of the Middle East, and was named to the All-Arizona Community College Academic Team. She received several awards during her time at Mesa Community College, including the President’s Scholarship, 2011 Phi Theta Kappa Leaders of Promise Scholarship,and a 2012 Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team Gold Scholarship. She plans to transfer to University of Arizona to continue her education.

A little less than a week later on May 17 Dr. Risley was addressing the graduating class of 2012 at Atlantic Cape Community College in New Jersey, where he was presented with an honorary associate degree by Dr. Peter Mora,President,and David Evans, Vice Chairperson ofCollege Trustees.

In his commencement speech Dr. Risley shared with the graduates and guests a story of Harriet Tubman, who risked her life by leading hundreds of slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad. “Following her first escape from slavery, Harriet Tubman said, ‘When I found I had crossed the line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was glory over everything.'” he said. “For our graduates today, this commencement, this event celebrates that kind of experience Tubman describes, for this is the very moment when we stop to reflect and realize they are no longer the same.”

“Today, I did walk away changed and your speech was a highlight of the day,” said Atlantic Cape graduate Jessica Brown. “Thank you again for the inspiring words.”

“I have received more unsolicited, positive comments on Dr. Risley’s remarks than on any speaker in my seven years as president,” Dr. Mora said. “He knows the story of the community college student and tells it better than anyone I have seen in the community college sector.”

A few weeks prior to his commencement speech in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Dr. Risley was interviewed on the subject of college completion for Santa Fe Public Radio. He told the listening audience that in recent years the U.S. has fallen from number one to number 15 in terms of citizens who have received college degrees. “Last year we were number 12,” he said. “What this means is that we no longer have a competitive workforce.” Listen to the radio interview online.

On May 23 Dr. Risley addressed a crowd of more than 600 at the commencement ceremonies at Santa Fe Community College, where nearly 500 students earned associate degrees.

“Santa Fe Community College was honored to welcome Dr. Risley as our 2012 Commencement Speaker,” said SFCC President Dr. Sheila Ortego. “The college community – and especially our graduates – appreciatedhaving such a distinguished guest, someone so committed to the causes we share – student access and success, excellence, and the Phi Theta Kappa organization. His remarks inspire all of us to continue to – in his words – ‘make Santa Fe a community where being smart is valued.'”

While visiting Santa Fe Community College, Dr. Risley met with the chapter advisors and officers of the Alpha Kappa Xi Chapter, New Mexico Regional Coordinator Cindy Armijo, New Mexico Regional President Torres Leyba, and Twila Quintana, co-advisor of the Beta Mu Nu Chapter at Luna Community College, to discuss their Community College Completion Corps (C4) initiative for 2012-13. He is planning a return trip to Santa Fe Community College and Luna Community College in August to discuss the C4 Challenge with faculty, staff, and industry leaders.

For more information, read news stories online about commencement ceremonies at Atlantic Cape Community Collegeand Santa Fe Community College.

Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, headquartered in Jackson, Mississippi, is the largest honor society in American higher education with 1,280 chapters on college campuses in all 50 of the United States, Canada, Germany, the Republic of Palau, Peru, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the British Virgin Islands, the United Arab Emirates and U.S. territorial possessions. More than 2.5 million students have been inducted since its founding in 1918, with approximately 135,000 students inducted annually.

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