On Friday August 30, 2013, Cohort 8 of the LA Fellows program celebrated their graduation. One of their chosen speakers was Katie Mills. Here are the words of reflection she shared to celebrate their LA Fellows experience:
GOOD MORNING, EVERYONE, WE ARE COHORT 8.
Was I shouting? Was I yelling? I hope so, because our teacher Larry taught us to start our public speaking by yelling like crazy people – he thinks this conveys confidence. I’m not sure that was loud enough, so can I ask my cohort to stand up and help show Larry and our guests today that we have learned to greet people?
(Everyone in Cohort 8 yells together):
GOOD MORNING, EVERYONE, WE ARE COHORT 8.
Thank you – This teamwork is just a small demonstration of the camaraderie that we have built over the past eight weeks in LA Fellows, and we’ve done so by watching each other go through embarrassing activities that took us out of our comfort zone.
In early July, we came in here as 22 isolated job seekers and have become over these past seven weeks a transformed community dedicated to supporting one another in becoming the bright shiny pennies that our teacher Lynnette coached us to be.
Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, the Tin Man, the Lion and the Scarecrow, we’ve been on a transformational journey, and today we’re celebrating because we HAVE found our courage, our hearts, and our brains through LA Fellows. We’ve melted the scary Wicked Witch, we’ve pulled back the curtain on the all-powerful Oz, and we’re here today to mark this amazing journey from downbeaten job seekers to eager and excited interns who are ready to land a rewarding job. Thanks to LA Fellows, we have learned to have a vision today rather than merely a survival plan.
Like the travelers on the Yellow Brick Road, we in Cohort 8 have bonded because we’ve survived so many challenges together. Standing in front of your peers and yelling “good morning” might not seem so scary to you in the audience, but it was intimidating to actually sit and watch while each one of us stood in front of the class like little mice yelling in squeaky voices and doing it over and over and over again until we sounded like big, brave lions. Ditto for leading the beat in the amazing and wonderful afternoon of the drum circle with Roberto. I won’t even mention how Jim tied us up with rope on the very first morning of class, or how Lynnette forced us to be confident and proud of ourselves.
I want to credit Lennie Ciufo, Allison Silver, Mary Turner, and Keri Luna for providing a fantastic, well-planned curriculum that took us at a good pace on a journey of reflection, action, and intentionality. They also recruited truly wonderful teachers, and I speak for all of us when I say thanks to Jim Marteney, Lynnette Ward, Larry Braman, Andrea Mitchel, Kim Eberhardt, Roberto Gutierrez, Tony Jaramillo, Doug Card, and Allison Silver.
Some of our most important bonding experiences were not on the curriculum. For me, our cohesion began early, in our second week of classes, when one of us had a medical emergency. Seeing one of us down while the EMTs rushed in – that symbolized our vulnerability:
· first of all, as humans, w/ the mere fact of mortality,
· but also as unemployed adults living on budgets, no one sure if the other even had medical insurance or someone at home to take care of us.
We recognized then that we were all in this together, that we had already become comrades on a team, no longer isolated individuals. (And, I’m happy to report that our friend bounced back immediately.)
Seeing people step up and take responsibility for someone in need is empowering, and it set the tone for the rest of our time together. Allison, Mary, and all our teachers had always embodied an ethos of support, caring and respect. When we collectively embraced this during that second week of classes, it snowballed, expanding exponentially as we all authentically began enjoying, appreciating, and looking out for each other.
The sweet moments were when Danny made us all Filipino deep fried bananas, when Mark brought the pie made by his mother, Mrs. Barbara Washington, when Daryl brought the flowers and Dawn brought the strawberry cake for Allison’s birthday.
I’d like to thank LA Valley College, the Job Training Department and the LA Fellows Advisory Board for supporting a program whose positive impact radiates out into our society as a positive response to the economic challenges that characterize the past five years. Globalization and technology have altered job stability, and weakening wage power makes more and more workers vulnerable in our tough economic times.
I want to note that today’s graduation takes place just before the Labor Day holiday and two days after the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, which was also called the March for Jobs & Freedom, fighting for economic justice alongside civil rights. There is an intimate link between employment and our nation’s political wellbeing, and the contribution being made by LA Fellows is significant and deserves recognition.
I want to thank our families and friends who have supported us through these eight weeks – I’m especially grateful to my husband for taking on more than half of the cooking, grocery shopping, and dog-walking responsibilities, and for his support of the goals I set during LA Fellows.
Let’s have a round of applause for our supporters.
We’re happy to have our supervisors here from our nonprofit organizations. Our internships allow us to use our skills, even those that have been buried under pragmatism and responsibilities, and to give back to society some of the caring and generosity we have been so privileged to enjoy in LA Fellows.
Cohort 8 greeted you in one voice at the beginning of my talk, and yet there will be 22 different endings to our story as we leave our program and move on. We are graduating into the important role of LA Fellow alumni, serving as ambassadors in our nonprofits and – soon -- in new jobs of the transformative work being done here at LA Valley College by Lennie and his team.
So Cohort 8, let’s click our ruby slippers and remember:
There’s no place like LA Fellows, there’s no place like LA Fellows, there’s no place like LA Fellows, and for that, we thank you all for supporting us as we journey forth.