Tiffany Votta arrived at Joliet Junior College in the late 1990s eager to learn, craving a new experience and a better life. Little did she know when she first stepped on campus that she would eventually channel her diverse experiences, a journey spanning two decades, into a speech as the 2017 student speaker for JJC's 101st commencement ceremony.
Watch a short video about Tiffany here.
"This is truly a long time coming for me," Votta said. "For most students it's two or three years in the making, but in my case it's been 20 years in the making and it's long overdue."
The Braidwood native and construction management major will advise her fellow graduates that they should never settle in life or be afraid to dream big during JJC's graduation ceremony on Friday, May 12 at 6 p.m. in the JJC Event Center.
For as long as she can remember, Votta said she always knew she wanted to work in construction.
"I remember sitting in front of my old house and watching the ComEd trucks drive by," she said. "My parents told me that the people in the trucks made a good living, and I remember saying I want to grow up and to be one of them."
Votta enrolled as a part-time student at JJC in 1997. While attending classes, she quickly learned that going to school would be life-changing - but it did not come without its challenges.
"When I first started, I would work for seven straight days in 16 hour shifts," she said. "Going to work and school at the same time was very difficult. There were plenty of times that I would have to drop out for a semester or take classes here and there."
During those years, Votta said she often applied for jobs in the construction field without any success.
"I knew I had to do something because I wasn't getting anywhere without a degree or certificate," she said.
That's when she learned about JJC's construction management program.
"One day, I saw this 'Building Workers, Constructing Lives' certificate program ad in the paper and I cut it out and put it on my freezer. Every day I would have to walk by my freezer and see this ad."
For several weeks, Votta contemplated calling to find out more about the program.
"I thought to myself on and off: 'I am going to call this number because this program just seemed too good to be true.' Finally, I called and that's when I met Professor Laura Cotner and Professor Maria Anna Rafac. After that, I went through the interview process, and then I got accepted to the program."
Since then, Votta has experienced a number of personal successes. Not only did she complete her certificate and now her associate degree, but she has also turned her lifelong dream into reality.
"I am proud to say that I am currently working for my dream company, ComEd, as the Overhead Operations Construction & Maintenance Foreman and Senior Planner. This is a dream I couldn't have ever accomplished without JJC."
Today, Votta looks back at her experience and smiles.
"It was never my goal to take so long to get my degree. Life just got in the way. However, I did not let life defeat me. I knew that there was something out there better for me and without JJC, I could have never seen my dreams become reality," she said.
As the student speaker, Votta wants fellow students to take away one thing.
"I want my classmates to know that now is the time to invest in your dreams. Dream hard and dream big. Don't let somebody else be the pilot of your direction. Be the pilot of your own direction."
For more information about Joliet Junior College commencement, visit www.jjc.edu/graduation/Pages/default.aspx.