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Steady stream of guest speakers help KCSS students make post-graduation plans

Formulating a post-high-school-graduation plan is a challenge for Knoxville Center for Student Success (KCSS) juniors and seniors. Many of them already shoulder the burdens of adults, including family responsibilities and full-time employment. Working toward the next step, whether completing FAFSA and applying for college or investigating employment options with opportunities for future growth, can be easily swept aside.


KCSS family liaison facilitator Reginald Thomas makes copping a “get the diploma and get out” attitude unacceptable.  


In the 18 weeks between August 6 and December 18, 2019, Thomas arranged 30 guest speakers and tours focusing on options for after high school.


Speakers from local employers including Avanti’s, Costco, Komatsu, Hoerr Nursery, Lowes and the US Postal Service have visited KCSS to speak about employment skills and opportunities. Students met college representatives from Illinois Central College (ICC), Methodist College, Western Illinois University, Illinois State University, Eureka College and Eastern Illinois University. They’ve been introduced to the ICC Highway Construction Careers Training Program, Trio Program and Health Careers Program. They have completed the FAFSA forms and learned about financial assistance for college students. They also have learned about volunteer opportunities at organizations such as The Salvation Army, Peoria Park District and Peoria Area Food Bank. By the end of December, they will meet recruiters from the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force.


In late September, Dr. Jamel Wright, president of Eureka College, spoke to students for over an hour. Wright congratulated the students for working toward their high school diploma, recognizing that KCSS students face many obstacles.

 Dr. Wright speaks at KCSS  Dr. Jamel Wright Eureka College

Much of Wright’s advice addressed one prediction: “Sixty-five percent of the jobs that exist today will not exist in 20 years. We’re trying to train you now for jobs that don’t even exist yet.” The key to those jobs, Wright asserted is being mentally prepared. “You have to have intellectual curiosity and transferrable skills. You have to be able to reinvent yourself,” she told the students. With animated, energetic delivery, Wright’s talk dispensed nuggets of wisdom:


  • You have to believe in yourself to be successful and you gain that confidence through education.
  • You need a plan for after high school, but it’s okay if it changes. Use the adults here to help you make a plan but understand that you may change careers numerous times during your lifetime.
  • Be honest with yourself so you can position yourself for success.
  • Explore beyond Peoria. The world is an amazing place. Give yourself a chance to explore and take those opportunities while you can.
  • Attitude is more important than experience. “When I hire someone for our team, I would rather choose someone with less experience but a positive attitude. Negative attitudes drag the team down,” she said.
  • Ask for help even though it can be very hard to do.
  • “We all have struggles,” Wright said. Tenacity – the ability to push through struggles and stay focused is a key to success. Don’t let struggles derail progress. Tenacity will also help you overcome negative people and events.
  • “I believe sometimes we don’t set the bar high enough for ourselves,” Wright said. Don’t strive to be mediocre. Strive to be better. “Strive for the A and if you get a B, that’s ok.”

“Over the course of a lifetime, a person with a Bachelor’s degree will earn $1 million more than a person with only a high school diploma. The jobs being created are for people with college degrees,” she told students. Wright pointed out that many KCSS students would be eligible to earn their associate’s degree at ICC tuition-free through Peoria Promise, and if they have a 2.8 GPA or above, they can then attend Eureka College tuition-free through the Eureka Promise program.