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My Turn: The many faces of GCC

Earlier this spring, I was given the privilege of addressing the members and supporters of the Greenfield Community College Foundation at its “Changing Lives Through Education” annual fund campaign kickoff event. For me, it was the perfect opportunity to represent the thousands of students who have been helped through the support and volunteer fundraising efforts of these and many more wonderful people over the years.

The message of my speech was quite easy to come up with: “Thank you! We appreciate all you have done and all you have done has changed the lives of so many … for the better.” I now have the honor and the privilege of being able to again represent all those faces in this My Turn column and say “thank you to all of you who have supported and/or raised funds on behalf of GCC students.” Following is my speech, much as I presented it that evening. Thank you for your time in reading about my journey and experience as a GCC student. Peace, Michael.

“Good evening and welcome, distinguished guests, which include all of you here this evening, because who you are and what you do is special. Thank you for the honor and the privilege of speaking with you tonight and know that the ‘I’ in my speech really represents all the faces and all the journeys of those faces of the students who have passed through the doors of Greenfield Community College.

“I am Michael … a former Marine, a father, teacher, PTSD sufferer and former addict; I am a counselor, Sunday school teacher, manager and chef; I am self-reliant and independent.

“I have been homeless … I have been on foot across this country… I have worked no less than two jobs simultaneously and as many as five.

“I have worked hard all my life … then, like many of us, suddenly there was no work.

“All this and much more occurred in the 50 years before GCC, until one man, then-GCC Director of Admissions Herb Hentz, reached out with a welcoming hand and said, ‘Come down here to my office, you’re going to GCC!’

“And now, since GCC: I am a nontraditional student, co-founder and former vice president of the GCC Veteran’s group, VetNet, and a two-term student trustee of the college. I am a veterans’ advocate, a student advocate and a child advocate. I helped revamp the GCC Student Senate and raised the voice of my fellow students to the ears of the administration.

“I have been to the Massachusetts Statehouse and met Gov. Patrick, senators, state representatives and a college president or five and, yes, have had the honor of working with and for Greenfield’s Mayor Martin. I still have worked no less than two jobs and as many as five, I still suffer from PTSD and was indeed homeless for a short time. I also recently completed building a new home with my fiancé …

“Why have I told you all this? There are two reasons:

“First is that my experiences represent many of the journeys of those who have come through, currently are, or have yet to arrive as students of GCC. I wanted to give you just a small glimpse of those who you have helped that you may never meet, much less see, which ties into the second reason …

“This community needs to know how much you are truly appreciated and that all that you do truly matters, truly has an enormous and life changing impact on countless lives … lives that are bettered for attending this fabulously outstanding institution and who go on to better the many more countless lives they come in contact with. What you do for the GCC Foundation annual campaign in the coming days and weeks will have impact for years to come.

“So, on behalf of all those lives that were changed for the better by having the opportunity to attend GCC that you good folks generously provided, I thank you, I thank you, I thank you!

“We appreciate beyond words what you have done for us and the college and thus our community. Thank you, good evening and Peace.”

Please make a much needed donation now to the GCC Foundation Annual Fund Campaign, Changing Lives Through Education, at www.gcc.mass.edu/give or call 775-1600.

Michael Lewis, a GCC student trustee, lives in Brattleboro, Vt.

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