Valerie Topacio

Student Speaker: Valerie Topacio

Welcome, students, family, friends, teachers and mentors to the graduation of Edmonds Community College's class of 2010. To all of you, sitting in blue, congratulations—for each and every one of us has earned the gift of an education. And as we sit here together, some of us anxious in our seats, I ask you to celebrate; not only each other, but the many different ways in which Edmonds Community College has helped us come closer to achieving our dreams.

There is something to be said about the uniqueness of a community college education and the culture it creates for students from all different walks of life. Two years ago, I was working as a receptionist for an insurance company in downtown Seattle before I decided to return to school. I answered phone calls, filed, did database entry and made coffee for my bosses, some of whom had worked in the insurance industry for more than 25 years. I felt uninspired going through the motions, and slowly, slipped into an eight-to-five working routine for almost two years. I was the youngest one at the company, and realized that I had been simply working to live, but did not know for what purpose.

I recall when I worked there, getting lost sometimes in the beautiful Seattle skyline, and I would watch ferries come in and out across the Sound. It was in these moments that I caught myself asking the question, "When will I go back to school?" The reality I had created for myself at a company that considered me replaceable made me feel unfulfilled and restless. I was afraid that if I never left, I would be swallowed whole and eaten alive by the real world because I never gave myself a chance at pursuing a higher education.

I believed then, as I do now, that the pursuit of knowledge is the greatest gift a person can give oneself. After taking a harsh look at my surroundings—I realized that what I needed were new opportunities to thrive.

My hope in enrolling in a community college, was to be put in a place where my creativity, intellectual and academic prowess, and outspoken nature could flow freely. I wanted to read, write and learn more, and ask questions in a classroom—all with a hope to transfer and be on my way to a university.

I chose to enroll at Edmonds Community College for two reasons: To play basketball with the lady Tritons and to enroll in some of the journalism and English courses at the college, for I was drawn to the campus' student-run newspaper.

During one of our first basketball practices in fall of 2008, I recall coach Jennifer Schooler saying to the team, "If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?" "When will I have time to do this over?" I thought to myself my first quarter enrolled at Edmonds, Never —I realized, so I had better make it right the first time and not take advantage of the privilege to be enrolled in school.

I am a strong believer that if you do what you love, with a sense of pride and conviction, you are bound to thrive in any environment that you put yourself in. Edmonds Community College's rich, unique and diverse culture gave me a whirlwind of opportunities and resources to make me successful during my time here. Through my work serving as both a staff writer and editor-in-chief of The Triton Review, the campus' newspaper, I have been given unique opportunities to engage within the community and spark interesting dialogue about issues that I am passionate about such as women's issues and environmental and sustainability issues.

Through the journalism program, I have been able to nurture my voice as a writer and connect deeply with many people on campus. Spending countless hours and late nights in The Triton Review news room during production week with fellow staff members, reporting on campus lectures and events, and conducting interviews with fascinating people are just some of my experiences working for the newspaper that truly make for some of the most definitive moments and good times in my education.

My Journalism instructor Rob Harrill once told me in a copy editing session, that when it comes to good journalistic writing, stories are always better when they are told through the eyes of people and their experiences. My involvement in the journalism program helped me realize that Edmonds Community College's campus breathes life, and that our time here spent together on campus, resembles that of a brilliant and one of a kind tapestry. Each and every one of our glowing faces sitting here this evening makes up and contributes fabric so unique, that it has made learning at this college, for me personally, a remarkable adventure and an amazing privilege.

Not only have we been presented with endless opportunities at the college to blossom under the supervision of inspiring and passionate mentors, we have been lucky enough to share in some of these experiences together.

One thing I am sure to miss about this campus is walking through the cafeteria in Brier Hall when it is packed on an early morning. Everyone is off in their own worlds—eating, doing last-minute homework, reading, playing cards, chatting—I've never seen so many different faces and students from diverse backgrounds than I have walking through the Brier cafeteria at Edmonds. Each of your individual voices, ideas and passions expressed within this diverse community has contributed to some of the most enriching and memorable moments at the college.

As we move on to different chapters of our lives, we carry with us the gift to inspire and motivate others. As we leave this campus, and journey off into worlds unknown with our unlimited potential, we must realize that now is the time to tap in to the parts of our souls where all we feel is the passion to pursue what we love, confident in the fact that Edmonds has given us the tools and resources we need to succeed and go forward.

Thank you to my family, friends and mentors — Mom, Dad, Veronica, Lola and Shayne — you all inspire me to keep on achieving. Congratulations to the Edmonds Community College class of 2010: our generation's next leaders, creators, innovators and positive contributors to society. As we celebrate, I hope that your journey, wherever it may lead you, is fueled by passion and led by your desire to keep on learning.