April is National Poetry Month and National Community College Month. Kay Ryan, the 16th Poet Laureate of the United States, wrote these words in praise of community college students and teachers for the 2010 Key West Literary Seminar:

“I graduated from Antelope Valley Junior College on the Mojave Desert. The whole time I was going there I wanted to be off at a ‘real college,’ but I didn’t have the money.

Only after I had gone off to that real college — UCLA — did I realize what a terrific education I had received at my little 800-student community college. First, it was a real community. My teachers at AVC knew me by name; I had real relationships with them. They had expectations of me and I tried hard to meet them.

Second, the teachers were really good; including the wonderful English teacher who sent me off in the direction my life has taken. I got a fine education fifteen miles from home. As a teacher at a community college for over thirty years, I have taken particular pleasure in working with the kind of students who come to community colleges — people who are hungry for education and are willing to sacrifice to get it. It means something, to see night students arrive in their work uniforms from hospitals, construction sites, restaurants. I admire my students for their courage to start over in life, often having taken some knocks and having had the guts to think how to make things better for themselves and their families by coming back to school.

The first word in the name “community college” is community — and I’ve always been so impressed with the way community college students help each other; lifetime friendships come out of our classes. And let me not leave out the kind of intellectual and personal growth I have been able to witness in my long career with community college students. It is not the least unusual in a community college to find that the student speakers at graduation have come up the long way, starting in basic skills classes, gradually finding her or his intellectual footing, and leaving our school with the whole world newly open to them. But big changes can occur in students who are only with us for one or two semesters — they take away skills and confidence that show in everything they do — where they work and how they hold up their heads.”

Courtesy of Arlo Haskell, Key West Literary  Seminar

Listen to Kay’s poetry reading and the recordings of other U.S. poets, including Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Richard Wilbur, Jane Hirshfield, and Kevin Young… according to the Academy of American Poets, it’s good to keep a poem in your pocket!

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