Celebrating Students with a Virtual Toss of the Cap

Guest Correspondence

BY ROXIE JERDE SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY AUG 1, 2020

For our community’s teachers, students and families, it’s been a long, tumultuous summer. As conversations about reopening schools become increasingly complex, the usual back-to-school feelings of eagerness and excitement are understandably tinged with apprehension of the unknown, for all ages. While there are very real challenges and divisions facing our education system, there is also an undeniable common goal across the community to provide the best care possible for the emotional, social, physical and academic well-being of our children, no matter the platform or setting.

The thoughtfulness and openness to innovation of our students, parents, teachers, and providers working together to create an engaging learning environment reassures me about our community’s future. From pre-k to university, we are seeing the current generation boldly embracing optimism, adaptability and resiliency as they work towards fulfilling their unique dreams, even as cap and gown ceremonies transform into drive-thru parades and virtual commencements.

This summer, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County was able to celebrate student success and support their future dreams for a still hazy future by surprising 407 scholarship recipients with more $1.3 million in support via Zoom calls to hand-delivered plaques and yard signs. These virtual celebrations allowed students to meet fellow scholarship recipients, as well as the donors and volunteer committee members who make these scholarships possible. Over smiles, laughs and some tears, these celebrations remind us that meaningful relationships and connections, even digital ones, can inspire joy and sustain hope – two emotions that are requisites for future success.

Though many of these scholarships were awarded to students planning to attend traditional two- and four-year college programs, several other scholarships recognized the unique interests of our students:

  • 47 future nurses were supported by Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition BSN and Doctoral Scholarships
  • 15 future community leaders were recognized with Ringling College Library Association Town Hall Scholarships
  • 14 future artists found the means to inspire through Performing Arts Scholarships; and in the upcoming weeks many more scholarships for adults taking part in continuing education and certificate programs will be awarded.

All these opportunities are thanks to the passion and vision of donors who recognize that education is and will continue to be (regardless this pandemic), the gateway to a lifetime of success. This same commitment to the next generation also inspired nearly $400,000 in School Readiness and Summer Education grants, focused on strengthening early childhood learning and mitigating learning loss.

While there is clearly much to celebrate, the coming weeks will undoubtedly be trying for countless students, families, and educators. As we look for solutions, I believe there is a great deal we can learn from the experiences and insights of our students themselves. Their willingness to overcome and persevere in a new landscape is a valuable lesson we can all learn from and take to heart. In many ways, adults are, in spirit, participating in the same classroom as our students, learning and growing with one another as we navigate this new reality. Class is in session and we all have something to learn.

Roxie Jerde is president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

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