VSCC Fall graduation plans are announced

By Luis Quintanilla

Volunteer State Community College will hold its Fall Commencement ceremony on Dec. 14th from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. in the Pickel Field House – Moore Gymnasium at the Gallatin campus. The commencement will include graduates who graduated in the summer as well students who have applied to graduate in the fall. According to the Vol State website, “Participation in Commencement is optional, but strongly encouraged. Participating in the ceremony in no way confirms completion of requirements or official graduation. All program requirements must be completed before the credential can be posted to the student’s transcript or diploma.”

For those planning to participate in Commencement, there are a few things to do before hand according to the Vol State website. First students should have had ordered their caps and gowns before November 8th. They will receive an email when they are ready to pick up at the bookstore, and students will also pick up their guest tickets at this time. These are to be picked up before Dec. 13th.  Students may decorate their cap as long as they are tasteful according to Amber Regan , Graduation Associate. According to Regan, the number of tickets per student this year will be 8. The number of guests allowed to attend in the gymnasium is limited, but the ceremony will also be live streamed for those elsewhere according to Regan.

Rehearsal for the ceremony will take place the day before Commencement on Dec. 13th at 10:00 a.m. at the same location.

The ceremony, according to Regan and Tim Amyx, Director of Admissions, will closely follow previous ceremonies.  “It’s a typical collegiate commencement ceremony. Family and friends arrive. There’s usually a commencement speaker that address the group as well as a greetings from the Alumni Association that kind of thing. They sing the national anthem and then the students commence, go across the stage, get their names read. We read every name so that way every family can can hear their student’s name called and then at the end we sing the college alma mater and that’s the end of the ceremony,” said Amyx. Once the students and guests are dismissed, “there’s usually whooping and hollering,” remarked Amyx.

According to Regan, rehearsal the day before will be practicing the student part of it. At the rehearsal students will practice walking across the stage, hear announcements, receive a reward for attending and even be able to have their names drawn to win extra guest tickets. According to Amyx, the rehearsal is also meant to make the students more comfortable with the ceremony. “We have a lot of students that this is the first college graduation that they participated, them or their family, so it’s helpful for the students to have a few minutes to just be more comfortable, and to get some announcements and that kind of thing, so that’s why we have rehearsal,” said Amyx. The other thing that is important in attending rehearsal remarked Amyx is that students make sure the person reading their names knows how to say their names correctly as they walk across the stage.

Although attending the commencement is optional, both Amyx and Regan said they highly encourage students to attend. They stated that in the fall ceremony, less than half attend, and in the spring a little more than half attend. “I wish that every single person would commence and would  participate, but there are students who don’t for various reasons, but I really think that from the bigger picture that really everybody should participate,” said Amyx.

Amyx stated some students may not look at Commencement as a big deal, and instead just as stop along the way. “They don’t see it as the real accomplishment that it is. So I really wish that more students would take a moment to celebrate themselves and realize that they’ve done something by graduating from college that really not many people do if you take everybody into consideration. It’s an opportunity to celebrate. It’s an opportunity for you to get your family together,” said Amyx. “But I think a lot of people think this is just a stop along the way, it’s not that big a deal, but in reality it’s a big deal. And the college and faculty want to celebrate that accomplishment. Your family and friends want to celebrate that accomplishment, and by not participating in commencement you don’t allow that opportunity that to happen and it really might be your only chance,” continued Amyx.

Amyx remarked that at least someone, whether a parent, faculty or family member, spouse, or friend has invested in a student to ensure he or she reaches graduation, and these people wish to see it come to fruition.  “I think that a lot of students don’t think about the fact that Commencement isn’t just for them. Commencement is an opportunity for the folks that have helped them along the way to celebrate. I don’t think that you will ever find a person that graduates from college that didn’t have at least one other person that invested in their life in order to make that happen. This isn’t just about the student who’s graduating, but it’s a chance for all those people who sacrificed and supported to see the results of that work,” said Amyx.

Regan pitched in, “Rehearsals only like an hour and a half long. And then the ceremony itself is only two hours. So you’re talking about taking three and a half hours out of your schedule to come and celebrate.”

Amyx stated that a lot of students tend to be focused and honed in only on their bachelor’s degree and overlook this occasion. “A lot of students say, ‘Well I’m just going to get my bachelor’s degree so I’m going to wait till I get my bachelors degree and participate then.’ What they don’t realize is that there’s a lot of life that can happen between your associate’s and your bachelor’s degree. There’s quite a few students who something ultimately happens and their life gets redirected so they don’t get to the bachelor’s degree when they think they’re going to and so they’ve missed that opportunity to celebrate,” saidAmyx.

Regan said although the ceremony is a celebration and intended to be fun, another reason students may not attend is due to the attention given to them on the day of the ceremony. “They don’t want the attention on them. They don’t want people looking at them. It makes some people uncomfortable. They don’t want it to be about them. So for the very reason they should sometimes, I think that’s why they don’t,” said Regan.

Amyx added on, “For those people that are shy, it’s just a few seconds walking across the stage. You don’t even know you did it practically.”

Another reason stated Regan is that students often overlook their communications and are unaware of the commencement. She implores students to check these such as their Vol State email often. “A reason that they may not attend is because that they didn’t read the email, or they didn’t pay attention to the postcard we sent to them, and sometimes we send messages. It’s important things like this you may miss like an opportunity to participate like commencement,” stated Regan.

Amyx detailed a story of when he implored someone to attend someone to Commencement when she was planning to skip out on it. After the ceremony, Amyx said this person came up to him and thanked him for encouraging her to come. Amyx then added, “What we really needed is for students to come participate and make their own story.”

Regan added on by saying the ceremony is meant to be fun and a point of celebration with family and friends. “It’s all wonderful things packaged up very nice,” she said.


Student services host mental health discussion

By Luis Quintanilla

Volunteer State Community College will host “Let’s Talk About Not Being Okay,” a conversation with students about dealing with the lows mental health or even daily life may bring, on Nov. 12.

It will take place in the Wood Campus Center in Mary Cole Nichols Dining Room B from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Lunch will be served and Krista Mazza Carter, a faculty member and licensed professional counselor, will speak to students about not being okay.

According to Tiffany Zwart, Coordinator of Student Support, the discussion is aimed to break down the stigma surrounding mental health or even just when students are simply not feeling okay.

“What we want to get across to our students is that really in life in general there are times where we don’t feel okay. There are times when we feel sad or mad or confused, and we don’t understand and we don’t want to talk about it,” said Zwart.

The event will be in discussion format. Rather than simply listening to a speaker, students will connect by hearing other experiences and bridge the isolation they may often feel according to Zwart.

“I think when we start sharing our experiences with others it helps us to recognize that we’re not alone in our feelings or our experiences. That is my hope. That students will see that their feelings are not, while they are particular to them, unusual and there’s nothing wrong with them,” said Zwart.

Zwart said the more people talk about these things the less embarrassed they will feel and the less alone they will find themselves.

“We don’t become an island where we’re all by ourself and our feelings,” said Zwart.

Zwart stated that the Office of Student Engagement and Support hosts different talks every month over different topics to reach out to students and make them aware of areas of support.

“We’ve never done this talk of not being okay, but we’ve had talks about sexual assault, domestic violence, and absolutely we’ve been able to connect students with resources. We’ve been able to connect them with other students so that they can discuss their common experiences together, and that has been helpful to them. My hope is that there’s always more students that show up,” said Zwart.

The idea for this month’s talk came from the stress this time of year may have on some people according to Zwart.

“Especially around this time of year as we move into the holidays. If you have family that you’ve lost, or your holiday doesn’t go as expected, or if you are struggling financially. The holidays are extra hard. So hopefully that will bring students in,” said Zwart.

Zwart encouraged any student to come and listen.

“I would just encourage them that like every single one of us, we are struggling with something, so there’s no shame just coming to hear about it. It doesn’t imply that there’s anything wrong with you. And even if you have a mental health issue, it doesn’t imply anything is wrong with you. I just want students to come and listen and really just acknowledge that it’s okay to not be okay. I mean really, we just want students to know that it’s okay. We want them to feel better, but at the same time it’s okay to talk about it when we’re not okay,” said Zwart.

“And we’re here,” added on Zwart. “Our offices are here if students are not feeling okay. This is the place that we like them to come so that we can direct them to outside resources. Student Engagement and Support, and we’re in Wood 215,” said Zwart.

The support struggling students can get isn’t only limited to this discussion remarked Zwart. Students can always pass by the office of Student Support for more resources.

“We do have an iPass voucher program,” said Zwart. This program is for students who are in need of mental health care either in counseling or testing services.

“They have to come through our office, and we need to determine eligibility. If they are eligible, then we send them out into the community, we have a provider list, and we pay for six sessions of mental health counseling. That’s totally free to our students. It’s just a service we provide, because we don’t have a counseling center on campus, and we want our students to know that we have that program available to them, and I don’t think a lot of our students are aware,” said Zwart. According to an information packet about iPass, any student taking 6 credit hour or more may be eligible.

‘Story Slam’ participants tell tales of their thankful times

By Luis Quintanilla

Volunteer State Community College students Elisha Brinkley and Christina Alva walked away with a prize on Nov. 7.

Both students were winners of the Story Slam held at Vol State with Brinkley winning first place and Alva winning second.

The event took place in the Rochelle Center in the Thigpen Library from 11:10 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. At the event, students were able to sign up for a chance to tell a story in front of the audience and possibly win a cash prize. Nine people told their stories ranging from the more comedic side to the more deep and personal side.

The event began with students being able to get refreshments and snacks in front of the Rochelle Center and with a sign-up sheet for those who wished to tell their story. For the audience members who didn’t sign up, there was still involvement for them as there were cards laid out on the seats with fill in the blank questions that they could answer anonymously.

The emcee, Jon Goode, would then collect these cards and read them in between each story. These cards and their answers ranged from least favorite Thanksgiving food, to favorite Thanksgiving memory.

Goode kicked of the event by hyping the crowd. He asked the audience to demonstrate how to properly clap and cheer to rile them up for the various speakers who would present. He then went onto a personal story of how his car broke down once and how a trucker gave him a lift to his destination. He chronicled this story in a comedic way making the audience laugh, but ultimately delivered the theme of the story: a simple interaction connected two strangers, just as storytelling usually does.

Library will host “Story Slam” this Thursday

By Luis Quintanilla

Volunteer State Community College will host Story Slam on Nov. 7th on the Gallatin Campus. The event will take place in the Rochelle Center in the Thigpen Library from 11 a.m. to noon.

During the event, students will be able to tell two to four-minute personal stories for a chance to walk away with a prize. The audience will vote on the best stories, with the first-place winner winning $75 and the second place winner winning $50.

This will be the third Story Slam at Vol State. It will also be the third year the event will be emceed by Jon Goode, an Emmy nominated poet and playwright. Attendees will be able to enjoy snacks and refreshments while listening to the stories.

According to Tabitha Sherrel, coordinator of student activities, the event is a collaboration between the Office of Student Engagement and Support and the Communications Department at Vol State.

“The communications department had the idea. They came in with the concept and then we helped them make it happen,” said Sherrel.

The two faculty members who came up with the idea for the Story Slam were Shellie Michael and Sheri Waltz, communication faculty members.

“When you come in you can kind of choose to be just an audience member, eat some cookies, and sit down, or you can actually choose to present. If you want to you sign your name,” said Waltz. She stated that if there is an overflow of people signing up, names will be drawn or if not they will just be called up.

“They just tell their story. We all laugh, cry, clap, and at the end we vote. Of course, the audience gets just a chance to be together. There’s food so that always makes it nice so you can

swing by. You don’t have to be there the whole time. You can come for a little bit, and you can leave,” explained Waltz.

The theme of this year’s Story Slam revolves around stories of being thankful. However, Waltz said the theme is ultimately secondary, the main drive is to get people to comfortably open up and share their stories.

“The point of the whole thing is for you to connect with your neighbor,” said Waltz. “Ultimately any story will do because the whole point is just to meet each other. Just to talk and have an opportunity to share something that happened to you and have other people connect with you,” stated Waltz.

Waltz said some people may share gut wrenching and emotional stories, while others will tell stories of things like going sledding with family or other casual stories. “The person can really talk about the things they want. So students who want to open up about deeper things do, and the students who don’t, don’t. It doesn’t matter because as the human race we just love stories. We listen to them. We connect with them, and we’re just drawn to them. So even stories that might be more trivial in nature are still fun to listen to. We like them. It allows even the most shy student find some avenue to connect,” said Waltz.

“Be surprised. Last year the winner was someone who was walking by and saw the food and said ‘Hey what’s going on’ and we said, ‘Oh we’re telling stories,’ and she came up, told a story, and she was the winner. So not only did she get free food. She also won money,” remarked Waltz.

The idea for the Story Slam was birthed in Michael’s and Waltz’s classrooms. The two saw the disconnection among students and their experience at college and decided the remedy to this was storytelling.

“One of the things we have found not only at community colleges but across colleges across the state and across the nation is that students just are disconnected,” said Waltz. Waltz said a few years ago she began teaching a class and she had asked the students their biggest disappointments.

“It broke my heart that the majority of them said that they just don’t have friends. They just go to class, and they leave. There’s just no real way to connect, so Shellie and I started talking about it,” said Waltz. Waltz admitted, even though students may not always be inclined to take public speaking classes, the classes her and Michael teach, they attempted to find a way to ingrate the public speaking skills students were learning with more personal connections.

The answer to this they found was storytelling.

“Students get an opportunity to talk about themselves and what they’ve gone through, and they get to hear from each other and hear other students that have done the same thing maybe handled it differently. They get to practice empathy. They get to laugh. They get to cry. They get to be shocked. They get to be sad. All of those things,” said Waltz. In Waltz’s class, the very first speech students give are short personal stories in front of the class. Waltz said the results of this were evident in the classroom and then in the course evaluations given by students at the end of the semester.

“They get to know eachother and I hear them talking about how much they like the classroom environment and about how this is the only class where they know the people who are sitting next to them, or this is the only class where they can name everybody’s name. To me that is attributed to that that we spend time in the beginning of our class learning public speaking skills, but we do it in a way that allows the audience to connect with each other,” said Waltz. “They write about it in their evaluations at the end of the semester. It is by far the number one thing that

is commented on in the evaluation, and it is commented about how positive that experience was for them to write about themselves and for them to talk about themselves and them to listen to their peers about things that happened,” explained Waltz.

After its success in the classroom, Waltz and Michael wanted to make it across the campus, which is where the Story Slam came from.

“It is really about finding ways for our students on this campus to build relationships so that they feel a sense of connection so that they know that they matter and that what they’re doing here matters and that eventually it’ll lead to graduation. For us in public speaking it makes a lot of sense because we can teach it in the classroom, but at the end of the day whether you ever taken the public speaking class or not, stories are integral to who we are. You don’t even have to be a public speaking student to do this. It’s just fun for everybody. That’s why we thought a campus-wide event would make sense. We wanted this to be more relaxed. About us just being a part of the Vol State community. You know and getting a chance to share who you are and how people respond positively to that. It feels nice,” remarked Waltz.

Tree planting commemorates VSCC student killed by domestic violence

By Luis Quintanilla

On Oct. 24th, Home Safe and Volunteer State Community College collaborated on a tree planting ceremony to honor Lexus Williams, a Vol State student who was killed from domestic violence.

The ceremony took place at the Gallatin campus on the Wallace South Courtyard from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. The ceremony had tables with refreshments and information about Home Safe.

Home Safe is a local program in the Gallatin area and works in the counties of Sumner, Robertson, and Wilson. The program is intended to help victims of domestic violence and abusive relationships. According to a pamphlet by Home Safe their services include, “24/7 helplines, safe house/shelter, individual and group counseling, advocacy, emergency transportation, and financial assistance.”

The event began with Shannon Lynch, an advocate for Home Safe, welcoming those in attendance. A short prayer by Glenda Barnett- Streicher, a member of the Board of Directors at Home Safe, was given to bless the ceremony. Streicher was the first of several speakers that would talk throughout the ceremony, many of which suffered the damaging effects of domestic violence in one form or the other. Streicher began by talking about her personal story and connection to domestic violence, her daughter Rebecca. Streicher told how she lost her daughter to domestic violence and how the resources of help were not available at the time. She explained that the gathering of everyone at the ceremony was meant to bring awareness to the resources now available to the victims of abuse.

Other speakers included Commander Rogan from the Hendersonville PD, who explained the collaboration the Hendersonville PD had with organizations such as Home Safe to help victims of domestic abuse.

Afterwards Laura Givens, a domestic violence survivor, told her story of abuse and ultimate escape to a more stable life. Givens not only told her story about her abusive and dangerous relationship, but of the struggles her and her daughters faced even after leaving the relationship tying to find a place to live and obtain the basic necessities when she moved to Nashville. Throughout her story she detailed the threatning nature of her boyfriend and how it was difficult for her to leave. Audience members could be seen shaking their heads in disbelief and disgust of the abuse she faced at the hands of her boyfriend. In the end, Givens was able to leave the relationship and said she has since found stable ground and said, “Don’t be too scared. This shelter is here for you. I am here for you.”

Andrea Boddie, director of the TRIO program at Vol State, then spoke about her own personal story with witnessing her mother be a victim to domestic abuse. She then spoke about Lexus Williams and the positivity and smiles she always carried despite her abusive relationship. “She would always come to our offices with sunshine,” said Boddie. She spoke of how Williams had returned to school to pursue a career where she could help others.

Afterwards Diane Berry and Rebecca Mae from Long Hollow Church joined each other to sing an original song “Take my Hand.” Berry herself said she had lost a daughter to domestic violence several years back.

Mark Hammock, a cousin of the father of Williams, spoke on behalf of Williams family. He began by talking about the various things his parents taught him growing up. Tying shoes, driving stick, and most importantly, how to treat others. Hammock said he finds it urgent we educate boys to never lash out in violence and never lay hands on a woman and to teach girls to be strong and not fall victims to those who resort to violence and abuse. Hammock warned the

audience he would try not to get emotional while speaking, but when he began talking about Williams, his voice began to crack and quiver under the tears.

The tree was then planted by the mother of Williams, Shannon Willaims, and a few others while Berry and Mae sung “Amazing Grace.”

In speaking with Shannon Williams she spoke of the meaning she found in the planted tree. “It means a lot to me. Lexus loved Vol State. She just had it in her mind she was going to do something with her life for her and her kids. I miss her, but this is beautiful. Someone might be passing by and read that and find out her story. Maybe they’re going a situation themselves. Bring some awareness so they can get help,” said Shannon Williams.

Stella Pierce, Assistant Professor of History and a member of the Board of Directors for Home Safe, helped plan and organize the event. “The tree planting is really a collaboration between Vol State and Home Safe, which there have been actually multiple collaborations between the two in the past. This might be the biggest depending on who you talk to. This might be the first in a series. It might be something that we do every year,” said Pierce.

Pierce explained the collaboration between Home Safe and Vol State is influential since Vol State is an integral part of the community and is involved in education, especially with younger students who she finds important to educate on this subject. “It’s really about education. I think that’s why Vol State is so pivotal in something like that, because it’s really about educating people and helping them to understand what to look out for how to avoid situations like that themselves and to understand why people might behave the way they do in those circumstances. Educate yourself and keep an open mind,” said Pierce.

Lexus Williams was a student of hers said Pierce. She said one of the most important things people can do is educate themselves to dispel misconceptions about abuse and to better

understand the deep rooted fear held in the victims of abuse and the cyclic nature abuse and its trauma tend to birth. “For example, the very common trope, ‘I don’t understand. Why don’t you just leave.’ What happened to Lexie is a perfect example of that, because she was trying to leave when she was shot and killed. That’s part of the reason why people don’t leave. They are terrified for themselves, for their children. She had two children,” explained Pierce.

The struggles of abuse stem beyond the aggressive grip that fear has on its victims said Pierce. The very nature of abuse changes the victims brain chemistry she explained. “That’s another part about the education is that it actually affects your brain, your brain chemistry, and your behavior in the long-term. So it takes a lot of time and a lot of therapy to get beyond the trauma, especially if it’s repeated trauma from childhood through adulthood,” she said. “It tends to be very cyclical, so somebody who experienced or saw violence as a child is more likely to find themselves in that situation as an adult either as a participant of abuse or as a victim of abuse or both potentially,” said Pierce. She said for the advocates of Home Safe it is sometimes a struggle to help since these victims often fall into to this cycle of abuse.

Pierced said the best thing someone can do who may find themselves in abusive relationship is to immediately contact an organization like Home Safe or a national hotline for abuse. “As soon as you find yourself in that situation the best thing that you can do is to contact somebody, because you are going to be speaking with people who are professionals, who are sympathetic, who have dealt with situations like that before, and the sooner you can deal with it and address it the more likely you are to be able to recover from it,” said Pierce.

Pierce then explained the symbolism and significance of planting the tree in honor of Lexus Williams. Pierce said, “I think planting a tree is definitely something that’s going to last. It’s something that’s going to be there, and it’s a symbol of life. It itself is life. It’s sort of a hopeful

message about continuation, about about processing, about healing and certainly a message of hope to anyone who is stuck in that situation because you can move forward and there is possibility beyond that. You can break the cycle and continue life beyond abuse.”

If you or anyone you know may be suffering from domestic abuse you may contact Home Safe’s hotlines

Domestic Abuse: (615) 452- 4315

Sexual Assault: (615) 454- 0373

Spanish helpline: (615) 969-3260

For those who wish to help and learn more information or more resources visit www.homesafeinc.org