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I’d like to talk a little about being a community college. Illinois Central College is celebrating the 40th anniversary of our first year of classes, so it’s reasonable that we look back at the sixties, when our college was founded.

The sixties were times of heady idealism and harsh realism. We had the dreams of John F. Kennedy, the momentum of civil rights and Martin Luther King, Jr., the women’s movement and the Great Society—but we also had the war in Vietnam, race riots and a wanton disregard for the environment. It was during this time that John F. Kennedy made his famous “going to the moon” speech. I’d like to quote a bit of that speech now.

“But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

America was moved to reach for the moon not because it was easy, but because it was hard. What if John F. Kennedy was talking, instead, about community colleges? He might have said something like this:

“We choose to build a community college. We choose to build a community college in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills to change the minds of the people in our community, to shape a new world, a new society, a stronger central Illinois and a greater Peoria—and that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

The people who have worked at ICC over the past 40 years chose to be part of this tough mission. We chose this because we believed we could do something others weren’t doing. We weren’t committed to reaching the moon…we were committed to reaching the masses.

As we celebrate our anniversary, we look back for milestones and measures. About 2,500 students started classes here in 1967. This December, we will reach a milestone of 50,000 degrees and certificates awarded. And when you look at our 40 years and all the people who have been enriched by ICC— students, employees, patrons of cultural events—the number of lives we have touched is staggering. Because in 40 years, we’ve enriched 400,000 minds.

Look at that number. Look at what we’ve done. 40 years. 400,000 minds.

That’s what community colleges are all about…changing the minds and hearts and the very lives of our students, employees and community through teaching and learning. We’re not so much in the business of conferring degrees; we’re really more in the business of changing our world by opening the minds of those we serve to the value of learning. When we do that well, we have risen to the hard work of being a community college. IBI

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