"Dreaming Big is Free," Hardy Told Southwest's Class of 2013

Community Colleges are being recognized nationally for playing a critical role in providing affordable education and job training to equip American citizens with essential tools and skills to pursue the "American Dream." This year, Southwest Tennessee Community College bestowed credentials on 1,966 students in the Division of Arts and Sciences as well as Career Services during its 2013 Commencement Ceremony held on May 4 at the Landers Center in Southaven, MS. Commencement speaker, Carolyn Hardy, president and CEO of Chism Hardy Enterprises, enumerated the struggles she endured before reaching the heights of the success she now enjoys. Hardy told Southwest’s Class of 2013 that she had lived in 13 different houses by the age of 12 and slept on the floor atop a mattress until reaching the age of 16. "I want you to understand that I was born and lived below the poverty line, but these circumstances did not define Carolyn Chism Hardy," stated Hardy. She told the graduates that one of the few things her family could afford was the cost of a dream; because it was free. "I dreamed, I believed, I pursued, I persevered," said the owner of the largest woman-owned intermodal company in the U.S.

Student speaker, Myckelle P. Williams, the first member of her family to earn a degree, also traveled a road riddled with challenges and struggles to become a business owner, motivational speaker and author of the upcoming book, Choosing the Road Less Traveled. After enumerating her struggles and expressing the importance of an education, she left her class with these challenging words:

"This should be the goal of each of us as we move forward in our journeys; to remember that, 2013 graduates, you were born for a purpose. The future is now in your hands, yours for the taking. As we crossed this bridge, toward our individual destinies, let us resolve to find that purpose, to positively change minds, leave our mark, and show the world that we were here."

Southwest President Nathan Essex acknowledged graduates who exemplified unusual courage, talent, and persistence in their educational pursuits. Bridget Johnson and her daughter, LaPorsche Finney, were recognized for receiving their degrees concurrently. Johnson, while balancing a full-time job and a family, returned to school years later after enrolling in State Technical Institute at Memphis and Shelby State Community College. She encouraged her daughter, Finney, to join her pursuit and they both were awarded degrees.

Fatou Gaye came to United States in 2006 from West Africa by way of London and overcame extreme challenges to graduate magna cum laude with an associate degree in early childhood education.

Rhena South graduated cum laude with an Associate of Science Degree in Criminal Justice, but is also earning her high school diploma from Briarcrest High School. As well, Brandi Carmichael received a Technical Certificate in Electrical/Electronic Fundamentals and will also receive a diploma from Central High School, in Millington, TN.

The president recognized members of Southwest's staff who earned degrees along with United States veterans.

The assembly paused during the opening ceremony to remember the late Dr. Maxine A. Smith, civil rights activist, educator, loyal supporter of Southwest, and a former member of the Tennessee Board of Regents.


Photo caption: Carolyn Hardy gave a passionate and inspiring speech to Southwest's Class of 2013.