Advantage Shelby County

Advantage Shelby County board member Stu Kaplan (right) praised student graduates for completing the program through a pandemic. The class of 2021 graduation ceremony was held Thursday evening at the Civic Center.

“The past year has been like no other. You all have risen above obstacles, shown resilience, and commitment to stay the course on your educational journey.”

Stephanie Amos, Ivy Tech’s Vice Chancellor of Johnson and Shelby Counties, kicked off the Advantage Shelby County class of 2021 graduation ceremony with words of praise to the 33 students sitting in the Civic Center’s gymnasium Thursday evening.

“You are truly, truly amazing and should be so proud of everything you’ve accomplished over the last two years,” she continued.

Advantage Shelby County had a total of 36 students complete their free two-year college program this spring. Three of these students were supposed to graduate in 2020, but deferred to spring 2021 because of COVID-19.

The scholarship program began as a partnership between Ivy Tech, the City of Shelbyville, and Shelby County in 2016 with the goal of increasing skilled workers in the county.

“It started out as an idea,” Mayor Tom DeBaun told the graduates. “We were trying to figure out how to better help our community reach certain attainment levels. We didn’t have the time to think about how it would impact the lives of the people.”

A steeple of the “legacy program” (as DeBaun called it) is that it allows students to attend two years of community college for free. In exchange for local support (i.e., tuition costs), the students are expected to complete ten hours of community service per semester (or 40 hours total over two years per each student).

The Class of 2021 broke the 10,000-hour mark for the program.

Ivy Tech Indianapolis Chancellor Kathleen Lee highlighted the importance of that accomplishment: “Only you and the [family] sitting back in the bleachers know how hard you worked to make it to tonight.”

“I don’t know if you realize how rare it is to have a supporting community like you do,” she continued. “I also know that this is the group of students who broke the 10,000-hour barrier and took us into almost 11,000 hours of community service for Shelby County. Not only are you creating a difference in your own lives through your education, you are making a difference in your community as well. I hope you appreciate that opportunity as I know your community appreciates all the hard work you did.”

Lee – who oversees Ivy Tech Indianapolis and its surrounding locations – announced that this would be her last Advantage Shelby County Graduation because Ivy Tech reorganized and decided to place Shelby County under Ivy Tech Columbus’ oversight. She also announced this spring would be her last round of graduations because she is retiring.

“Thank you for all that you’ve done,” she said. “For me, personally, it has been a great pleasure to watch this program unfold. When we dreamed about it and started talking about it five years ago, we never knew we’d have the numbers we have right now.”

“I hope you go forward from this point – whether it’s to the military, into employment, or on to college – and make a difference in other people’s lives the way this county, your family and loved ones, made a difference for you,” she continued. “When I think back on my career at Ivy Tech, almost the highlight will be the Advantage Shelby County Program and how this community wrapped its arms around its students.”

Lee introduced Dr. Sue Ellspermann, Ivy Tech President, who continued praising the relationship between Ivy Tech and the Shelby community.

“It has been so exciting to watch this grow over the last five years,” Ellspermann said. “This community has done free community college the right way.”

“You really have been given a great gift,” she continued. “I know you worked hard to earn that gift, but it truly is a gift. It is now up to you to deliver on that gift, to pursue your career, put in your considerable talent and skills to work.”

Ivy Tech Columbus’ Chancellor Steven Combs (who will oversee Advantage Shelby County next year) spoke next: “We are so thrilled to have the opportunity to continue the great work of Kathleen Lee and her team,” Combs said. “We decided by July 1 to hit the ground running, so we have already started work on the transition.”

He had the honor of reading the graduates’ names as they were handed their degrees.

The graduating class of 2021: Alexis Bass, Conner Beagle, Arik Bowen, Joseph Burgess, Brooke Clark, Timothy Clark, Marlee Correll, Megan Dennis, Nancy DeSpain, Devin Gates, Labreah Gossett, Julia Harmon, Madison Hartman, Lily Heffren, Hannah Hobbs, Danielle Kuhn, David Lay, Caleb Lisby, Emily Maza, Casey Mckenzie, Joseph McQueen, Madison Minor, Lani Norris, Kathryn Parker, Faith Pelt, Raiden Phillippe, Brianna Sinclair, Zane Smith, Blake Stephens, Alixandra Trueblood, Kameron Tucker, Aaliyah Turner, Logan Van Note, Matthew Vankirk, Joseph Wilson, and Hunter Yonts.

Advantage Shelby County Director Amy Carter closed out the ceremony with several inspirational “Amy-isms.” She asked the graduating class how many ways one can get to five.

Answers included four plus one, three plus two, five minus zero, ten minus five, and a couple of others.

“There are lots and lots and lots of paths that will get you to your destination, just like there are lots of ways to get to five,” she said. “Just because your path does not look like somebody else’s doesn’t mean it’s wrong. If the board up here had taken the same path as everyone else, we wouldn’t be sitting here. The point is there are lots of different paths to your destination, and I want you to choose your own.”