In composing the speech she will deliver at Amarillo College Commencement, Alicia Morin decided to dwell less on what sets her apart and more on what she has in common with so many of her fellow graduates.
“I’m not the only single parent here, the only person with struggles,” the first-generation college student – whose turbulent journey to an associate’s degree was imperiled by dyslexia and poverty – intends to say in her address.
“I’m not the only person who has gotten disconnection notices. And I’m not the only person who wouldn’t have gotten here without help.”
Morin, a general studies major, will be student commencement speaker when AC conducts its fall graduation ceremony on Friday, Dec. 14 at the Amarillo Civic Center. All told, 929 students are eligible to participate at the event.
The traditional graduation ceremony will begin at 7 p.m. and include AC students who completed degree or certificate requirements over the summer (274) or this fall (655).
Morin, a struggling single mother of a grade-school son, worked as a waitress and a bartender. But despite working two jobs that caused her to spend minimal time with her son, they sometimes didn’t have money enough for basic necessities like clothing or food.
At age 35, she turned to Amarillo College to improve her lot in life.
“I realized I was pushing 40,” she said, “and I didn’t really have a career or a 401K or anything to leave my son other than car payments, bills and old student loans from hair dressing school, and he didn’t deserve that.
“I didn’t even know what I would major in, and it was scary when I first started, but it was also exhilarating. I felt like a grownup.”
Little at AC came easy for Morin, though; she has always struggled with dyslexia, and her continued waitressing and constant need to study kept her continuously apart from her son. The wages from just the one job were decidedly insufficient.
Morin’s parents pitched in all they could, especially with childcare, she said, and that helped a great deal, but the disconnection notices kept coming.
“I was exhausted,” she said. “I knew I could quit school and bring in more money. But I knew quitting would put me right back in the same boat I was in before I started – barely making ends meet, if that, with no ultimate future.”
Then she heard about AC’s Advocacy and Resource Center – the ARC – where students have access to services and resources that can assist them when they encounter life barriers that block their success.
Through the ARC, Morin received counseling, groceries and hygiene products from the Food Pantry, financial assistance to help pay some of her bills, and tutoring that helped her deal with dyslexia.
“People at Amarillo College absolutely understand what it takes to reach your goals,” said Morin, who now plans to pursue a communication disorders degree at West Texas A&M University. “They know students are going to need help and they provide it.
“It is not easy asking for help,” Morin said. “But it’s what I needed, what a lot of us needed. As time went on, I found myself surrounded by encouraging and incredible people. I found my self-worth at AC. It all started with asking for help.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child,” Morin said. “Well, it takes a village to raise a college student, too. Amarillo College absolutely is that village.”