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Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Job Loss Becomes Career Opportunity for Commencement Speaker

  • Deborah Erskine will be the student speaker at WCC’s commencement ceremony on May 22.

Years of academic hard work and study will be celebrated at WCC’s commencement on Saturday, May 22, at the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center. The ceremony will honor more than 2,370 degree and certificate candidates. The processional starts at 9:20am.

The student speaker will be Deborah Erskine, whose personal story is all too familiar: a hardworking employee is laid off and in need of a new career, but hasn’t been in a classroom for over 20 years. As Erskine prepares to continue her studies at EMU this fall, her layoff has turned into the nudge she needed to make a lifelong dream come true.

“I was working in client service at a tax consulting firm when I was laid off in 2008,” said Erskine, who entered WCC through Michigan Works under the No Worker Left Behind program. “I had found a niche there and it was close to my dream of helping people. When they left the office feeling a little better about things, I felt good. I felt I had made a difference and I settled for that. But I’m not going to settle any more.”

Erskine is graduating with an associate degree in human services, and will continue her studies in social work at EMU. This summer she’s interning at Safe House Center in Ann Arbor, where she will work with families and children in crisis. It’s an experience she is anxious to begin.

“At Safe House I’ll be working in the playroom with young children, and the kids there are just wonderful,” said Erskine. “They come into the playroom so excited that it’s open and they just want to play. They just want to be kids. You can’t look at them and see what they’ve been through, but you know, and that’s what’s so amazing—how resilient they can be. Anyone can volunteer and you can work in all areas there, but my dream job would be to advocate for them, to give them a voice. Once you find your own voice, I think you have an obligation to help those who don’t have one. And that’s what I want to do.

“If I had to retrain for another career I wanted to find something that I could do to give back, where I could help somebody else,” Erskine said. “I didn’t have the luxury of doing that before now; I just had to have a job. So when I could pick something that allowed me to help people as part of the responsibilities, it seemed like now was my chance. We shouldn’t settle for things in our lives. Everyone needs to do something bigger than themselves.”

The faculty speaker will be English instructor Tom Zimmerman, whose unbridled energy and enthusiasm for learning make him one of the most popular instructors on campus. Zimmerman is advisor and editor for WCC’s award-winning literary magazine, The Huron River Review.

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