Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Educational institutions as oaks, acorns

There is an apothegm about giant oaks springing up from little acorns.

I’m not quite sure how I’m going to work it in here, but I’m going to try because what I have in mind involves an oak and an acorn.

I wanted to tell you about two events I attended back-to-back the other day, both involving educational institutions, one very large and the other very small, thus, an oak and an acorn, size-wise.

The "oak," if you will, is Lakeland Community College, a behemoth of an educational institution in Kirtland with an enrollment hovering around 10,000.

The "acorn," small but mighty, is a Catholic elementary school on East 260th Street in Euclid, just two blocks west of Lloyd Road in Wickliffe. If its enrollment is in the hundreds, it is barely so.

It used to be St. William. It is now merged with St. Robert, a move made so the latter school could survive. It is now called Sts. Robert & William Catholic School.

For many years, going back to the St. William days, a seventh and eighth grade teacher, Patrice Garukas, who lives in Kirtland, has asked me to serve on a three-judge panel at an annual speech contest sponsored by the Modern Woodmen of America.

Over the years I have sat with a multitude of other judges — some of them well-known, some not — as we listened to a dozen or so speakers address their assigned topics within a framework of five minutes.

It is an assignment I have never declined. It begins at 9 a.m. on the appointed day, and by the time we are finished we have heard some mighty fine orations delivered in the gymnasium by some wonderful young people from the host school as well as from St. Helen, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Anselm and Our Lady of the Lake.

This year there were 12 speakers. My fellow judges were Harry Boomer, an anchor and reporter from WOIO TV-19 (his first stint as a judge) and Scott Gongos, director of institutional advancement at St. Peter-Chanel High School in Bedford, an old hand at the judging.

Mrs. Garukas, the mother of two college students (one at St. Bonaventure and one at State University of New York at Oswego), has a way of making her request to be a judge appealing.

"The students are diligently working on their speeches and practicing their delivery styles," she wrote a little over a month ago. "Please come early to have some coffee and donuts."

I did. It was my first doughnut since the last speech contest. I’m doing my best to fight off the empty calories. But I digress.

Every year the kids are given a new topic. Last year I think it was "heroes." This year it was "An American Invention."

And boy, were those kids inventive. There were 12 participants, and were they ever good! As I recall there were 10 girls and two boys. They were all competitive.

The judging is exacting. The point system is precise. There are 40 points for material organization, including theme and subject adherence, structure, content, logic and color; 40 points for delivery and presentation, including voice, pronunciation, enunciation, gestures and poise; and 20 points for overall effectiveness, including impression and effect.

(I awarded all 12 contestants a perfect 20 in the final category.)

After a couple of hours, the three judges had reached a decision, which was announced in front of a packed audience of parents and friends.

The three judges were not far apart in point totals. Although all the speeches were good, four rose to the top. Since they were close, there was a moment or two of haggling and persuading by the judges.

Finally, the results were in.

The winners, in order, were Abby Picciano of Sts. Robert & William, who spoke on American Sign Language; Cole Prots of St. Helen, who spoke on the Jarvis Artificial Heart; and Nicholas Fink of Sts. Robert & William, whose favorite invention was, simply, America.

Nice job, kids — all 12 of you.

The "giant oak" in this analogy, Lakeland Community College, hosts an annual event called the Donor Scholar Breakfast in the cafeteria area known as The Breakers.

This year’s was April 8, the day after the speech contest at Sts. Robert & William. It was the 15th annual such breakfast and the best ever, attended by about 200 people, including scholarship winners, scholarship donors, college trustees, Foundation members and administrators.

First things first: The food is terrific! The college president, Morris Beverage Jr., insists the bacon is the best anywhere. I would agree.

The remarks by representative scholarship winners were touching and heartfelt, as always. Pam Joiner, Dawn Argie and Brooke Coiro all had heartwarming stories to tell about how they have overcome life situations and how they will use their educations at Lakeland to help achieve their goals in life.

The lengthy listing of scholarship donors — both citizens and companies — in the breakfast program is most impressive, as is the listing of recipients.

It is always a joy to listen to the young people explain what Lakeland means in their lives. Their stories get better every year.

This year, however, the program had a "punch" like never before. Beverage introduced Arlene Holden, widow of the college’s first trustee president, Arthur S. Holden. They announced the naming of the Arlene and Arthur Holden University Center, being constructed across Route 306 from the college. Lakeland graduates will be able to continue their two-year educations at the new center and receive degrees from as many as nine (or more) of Ohio’s finest universities.

Lakeland is now 44 years old. Opening the University Center across the street from its Kirtland campus is a visionary move, one that should bring approval from the residents and taxpayers of Lake County. It is also in direct response to the desires of the citizens who have responded to surveys with directives to (1) hold the line on tuition and (2) place a four-year degree within easy reach of Lakeland grads.

So those are my "giant oaks" and "little acorns" lessons for today. Both have powerful implications for the future.

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