Luzerne County Community College has endured its share of derision over the decades, and for good cause. It has served as crony central for the politically connected and too often was less than stellar in assuring transparent accountability - none of which should obscure the great value it provides to our region.
For every flaw you can site at LCCC, I’m betting I could find 10 success stories: young people who drifted aimlessly until the little college in Nanticoke offered an affordable and flexible route to steady employment; the freshly unemployed retrained for a new purpose; the working poor finding a pathway to post-secondary education.
For years I saw this side of LCCC as just part of my job. Interviewing people like Jen Yemola, the LCCC-trained pastry chef who found national fame in 2007 on TV’s “Hell’s Kitchen. Or Jim Walsh, who lost his factory job after 25 years and figured retraining at LCCC for plumbing and heating was the cheapest way to rebuild his life.
But last month it became personal.
I’ve known my niece Brittany Guydish since she was born. I’ve known her mother, Bette Mae, for at least a quarter of a decade. Obviously, I’ve known her father, my older brother, since I was born.
The youngest of three, Brittany often seemed the least focused on her future path, understandable as she coped with her own ailments at times and those of family members, including Bette Mae, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis after years of unexplained symptoms.
Bette Mae graduated from the now-defunct West Hazleton High School two years ahead of me, though I didn’t really get to know her until several years later. She picked her profession immediately, attending the former Sacred Heart School of Nursing in Allentown, and worked in the field until the MS overpowered in 2007. She spends much of her time now in a wheelchair, still laughing and joking every moment I see her.
Her oldest son, whom I used to startle by doing things like hiding on top of the refrigerator in their apartment when he was two or three, worked his way into restaurant managment. Her middle daughter plowed straight from Northwest Area High School valedictorian to currently earning her PhD at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Brittany had a harder time picking a path, building a career in a restaurant chain but usually contemplating alternatives. Then she choose LCCC’s nursing program.
I worked night shift during Brittany’s evening commencement, but was able to attend her “pinning” a few days earlier.
It’s strictly ceremonial. The degree, as noted, is conferred later. But in one way at least it can be the most meaningful moment for LCCC nursing grads: They can pick the person who will put the pin on their new white uniform.
Brittany went with mom, and you would be hard pressed to find a more poignant moment. My brother pushed Bette’s wheelchair near the little stage. Bette worked her way up the two steps with her cane. Brittany held the cane while Bette place the pin on her daughter’s classic nurse’s dress.
If you saw the scene in a movie you would write it off as too hokey to be true, a blatant effort by scriptwriter to go for cheap heart tug: Mother with promising career as a nurse struck down by MS pins daughter who suddenly found focus and became … a nurse.
But it was real. Brittany could have spun out in some haphazard direction. She didn’t. The day she graduated, she also accepted a job at Hazleton General Hospital.
And while most of the credit surely goes to her, her family and her upbringing, there was an indispensable component: LCCC provided a route to nursing she could afford and work into her complex life.
Go ahead: Find something negative to say about LCCC that would outweigh that good.
Mark Guydish can be reached at 829-7161.