Capitol Day in Austin

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On Tuesday, Feb. 3rd, the annual Community College Day was hosted by the Texas Association of Community Colleges at the Capitol in Austin.

Various students and faculty from Kilgore College attended. These included student representatives from The Flare, PTK, SGA, and TRIO. KC President Bill Holda was also in attendance.

The TACC has worked with students, faculty, and administrators from community colleges all over Texas to host Community College day. It affords students the chance to tell their stories of how community college has changed their lives to their legislators face to face.

Every year, Community College Day has began with a rally on the steps of the Capitol. The importance of community college to Texas’s future was a common thread in all of the testimonies given by the speakers.

Dr. Richard Rhodes, president of Austin Community College, spoke of the importance of students letting their legislators know about their personal community college experience. “Telling your story is critical,” he said. “The pathway to success is through community college.”

Lydia Santibanez, the Community College Association of Texas Trustees Chair, said this year’s gathering was the largest number of attendees for Community College Day. “Know all of you are seeking education that will enhance your life and the Texas economy. Community college is an affordable and quality pathway to education.”

The keynote speaker was Representative Jimmie Don Aycock.  He was elected to the Texas legislature in 2006, and is the chairman of the public education committee. Aycock authored House Bill 5, which passed in 2013. This bill restructured graduation and testing requirements in Texas.

“I care deeply about education at all levels,” he said. “You are the future of Texas. Community college is an integral part of the education process.” Like Rhodes, he encouraged students to “tell your stories, speak your mind.” He told his story of being on his family’s cotton patch when his mother ran up to him with his college acceptance letter, and how many community college students are the first members of their family to attend college. “Today I stand before you humbly,” he said. “What you are doing will change not just your life, but the lives of your children and grandchildren. Hang with it, it’s worth it. Don’t give up, find something that moves you forward in life.”

Senator Larry Taylor of District 11 spoke of the many doors community college can open. “We live in a land of freedom where opportunity reigns,” he said. “A dream is only a dream until you make it come true. Community college can make that dream come true. Many different dreams and paths led all of you to community college to make your dreams a reality. You are not only improving your life, you’re improving the lives of those around you.”

He challenged instructors and leaders to “do more. Keep looking for ways to improve. Texas as a whole can only see their dreams when Texans make them a reality.” He ended his speech with “May God bless you and the great state of Texas.”

The final speaker was Joel Mason of Collin College. Mason is the first student in Collin’s history to serve as the Texas Junior College Student Government Association president. He began his speech by asking everyone to upload pictures and articles on social media with the hashtags #BetterBeginsHere, #txlege, and #CCDay2015.

“I strongly encourage you to speak to your representatives about the five point plan,” he said. “Think about why you’re here today. We’re empowering you so we have the ability to make real, positive changes. Make your college a better place. Let your voice be heard.”

After the rally ended, group photos were then taken of the attendees. Everyone then headed into the Capitol building to take tours and sit in on Senate and House meetings.

 

The students took photos with the Sweetwater Jaycees, a group of rattlesnake wranglers. The snakes were on display outside on the Capitol Rotunda. This is the 8th year Representative Susan King of District 71 has brought  “a bit of West Texas” to the Capitol.

KC attendees briefly met Senator Kevin Eltife, who has more community colleges in his district than any other Texas senator. Cheryl Vanek, Eltife’s Chief of Staff, said “Eltife really appreciates you coming. The future of the community college is very important to him.”

They also met with David Simpson of District 7, where Kilgore is located. Simpson himself lives in Longview. He personally greeted everyone in the group and gave them his business card, telling them to email him and visit his website. “I’m so glad to see you here and interested,” he said.

Holda talked to Simpson on how we are working to improve the transferability of college credits, and standardizing math credits. They then talked about how House Bill 5 would affect the future of community college.

The students then took turns telling Simpson about their community college experiences and how it has affected their lives in positive ways. Simpson talked about the importance of “not being robots, not being slaves, but being free and responsible.” He addressed his sometimes unconventional voting by joking “I’m an equal opportunity offender.” He ended the meeting by saying “the best way to advance freedom is to understand and work with each other responsibly.”

As the group prepared to leave the Capitol, photographers were spotted near the doors of the Rotunda. They were gathered around Governor Greg Abbott, who was there taking photographs with the Sweetwater Jaycees. Afterwards, Abbot greeted Holda and the KC students and took photographs with them.

Community College Day 2015 was an informative and important event that let students experience how Texas government works first hand. Getting to talk to legislators and representatives at the Capitol let students know that their voices were being heard by those who have the power to enforce real change in community colleges.

The surveillance video of the shooting was released online this past Wednesday. This has only raised more questions instead of answers. The Hacktivist group, Anonymous, has claimed responsibility for attacking the city of Longview’s website on Sunday, Jan. 25, in response to the shooting.

Anonymous has thousands of members all over the country, and many have said they will travel to Longview to protest. Protesters are legally allowed to gather peacefully. Police are prepared for any incident that may occur.