The following speech was written and delivered by 2022 LLCC graduate Nicole Pedigo at commencement ceremonies May 13.
Tonight, we come together to celebrate our incredible achievements, and I’m both honored and privileged to share this night with you.
It’s been a challenging couple of years, right? When we thought about what the year 2020 would be like, I doubt we could have imagined a global pandemic. It seemed like the whole world stopped, but we didn’t. We kept going, and we kept working toward our goal, to be here tonight.
When one of my teachers said she would like to nominate me to speak tonight, I was honored. I started to reflect on my journey here at LLCC. I remembered when I came in for freshmen orientation, my first day of class, my first A, and then it hit me! LLCC was the first place that made me feel like I could make a difference. We all have unique stories of the obstacles we’ve had to face on our path to graduation. Tonight, I’m going to share my story with you.
I didn’t graduate high school; I got a GED at 17 and worked full time to help take care of myself. I come from a rough background, and all odds were against me. I suffered abuse and neglect, went without food at times, had little to no parental guidance, and DCFS was a regular part of my childhood. I was born to a single teenage mother and a teenage father that didn’t know about me until I was 33 years old. My mom, having spent time in the foster care system herself, wasn’t prepared to care for me and my brother. Eventually we were placed with my grandma, who provided shelter and did her best, but she suffered from multiple addictions and was away from home a lot. This left my brother and I to care for ourselves, getting up for school and putting ourselves to bed at night. In our neighborhood we witnessed drug use, drug deals and drug raids. College wasn’t something that seemed possible for us. The idea barely crossed our minds because we were just trying to survive day to day.
It wasn’t until I was 34 that I thought about college. A program called AVID was introduced to my daughters’ elementary school, and they started learning about colleges. They asked me what college I graduated from, and I didn’t have an answer for them, which is what led me to LLCC.
While at LLCC, I’ve had many wonderful teachers who have affected my future. My English teacher, Laurie Myers, helped me find my goal of becoming a teacher. I discovered that I could take my life experiences and use them to help students who are like me, which led me to the education program. My education professor, Dr. Taiebeh Hosseinali, helped me refine my goal and showed me how I can make a difference while still in college. She had us create and execute projects that could make an immediate impact in others’ lives, and during classroom observations at a middle school, I was able to make a difference in students’ lives.
I will always remember Dr. Hosseinali telling us there are generally two types of people who go to college: those who are destined to and those who, like us, are determined to succeed, despite all the obstacles we face. She was right, I am determined to succeed, and I’m grateful to be part of a school that celebrates success with me. I’ve been on the President’s List, I was invited to join the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, and I’ve been awarded two LLCC Foundation scholarships. I’ve even been on a billboard!
One major thing I learned at LLCC is that I can make a difference, and that I didn’t have to wait until I graduated to start. I’ve already inspired others, including family members, to go back to college or even start college for the first time. I never imagined this moment: my mom and dad both watching as I wear my first cap and gown, receive my first diploma and speak in front of my graduating class. Dreams can come true. And to my daughters, I have the answer to your question! I am a proud graduate of Lincoln Land Community College!
LLCC turned the impossible into my reality. Past hardship did not and will not define me. In fact, as Dr. Hosseinali says, I am the essence of what LLCC stands for; stronger and determined to give back to my future students and community.
My story is just one of many. Every single one of you should be proud of the obstacles and challenges you’ve overcome to reach your goals. Tonight is your night.
Congratulations and good luck!