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August 2014

Celebration, Tears at Last NLC Graduation
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Two hundred and ten graduates crossed the stage to receive their diplomas from the National Labor College at the end of the 2014 spring semester. It was the institution's largest graduating class, and also its last.

"This will be a chance to celebrate all that the college has accomplished over the years as well as provide an opportunity for our whole community to come together and say goodbye to the campus," the website's blog announced.

Since the decision to close, the website's blog became an electronic meeting place where students and alumni could come together to express concern for the closing, as well as appreciation for the education they received at the tight-knit, specialized labor college.

"This institution represents a lot more than labor students represented by labor unions. It represents a way of life in America," wrote one alumnus.

Funded by the AFL-CIO, the NLC provided an education to AFL-CIO union members and their families to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees on subjects such as business administration, labor safety and union leadership and administration. The institution was known for its emphasis on life experience and real-world application of skills, preparing students with on-the-job practice and senior projects that directly relate to their chosen studies and involve a high level of research.

Jim "Junior" Long Jr., a 2014 graduate who double majored in union leadership and administration and political economy of labor, says, "I didn't understand why the middle class keeps on getting hammered — benefits taken away all the way down to not getting paid minimum wages — now I understand what needs to be done." Motivated by seeing firsthand the effects of the recession, he explains, "I invested in myself to help others."

Like many of his fellow graduates, Long took an extra course load in his final semester in an effort to race against the impending closure.

"The college is virtually the only institution [entirely devoted to] labor studies — everything from history to organizing techniques to collective bargaining — at its center," wrote Kim Patterson of People's World. "Over the years, thousands of unionists came to the college to study those fields and others, from labor's point of view."

In the 17 years since its independent accreditation, hundreds of IBEW members have graduated from the program, with 36 IBEW members graduating in this year's class alone. Students who have not yet completed their programs at the NLC will be able to complete them through "teach out" programs at Empire State College, Thomas Edison State College, Penn State, University of Illinois, and Rowan University. These colleges are also accepting applicants independent of the NLC for their undergraduate programs.

"Please be assured that in all of our proposals, we are keeping the best interests of our students in our hearts and minds," wrote college president Paula E. Peinovich in a statement regarding the closure. "National Labor College is proud of our students, our work and our many successes."

The academic programs offered at the NLC have provided many leaders within the labor movement with skills and knowledge since its original formation as the George Meany Center in 1969. While there are colleges with courses in labor studies, it was the offering of subsidized higher education to union members that made the NLC so pivotal to the labor movement.

The AFL-CIO is working with former NLC staff to offer week-long classes teaching basic union skills building. They will offer intensive courses in union administration, bargaining, organizing, arbitration, and communications, said Al Davidoff, AFL-CIO's director of governance, organization, and leadership development.

IBEW Education Department Director Amanda Pacheco said members can still take advantage of resources both outside and within the IBEW for further education. "It's important that we continue to support them," Pacheco said.

Both the University of Wisconsin and the University of Oregon offer full-time undergraduate programs, and have partnered with the IBEW to provide week-long intensive courses to members on organizing and arbitration.

Long, for one, is pursuing an MBA in business administration at Webster University in St. Louis.

"Brothers and sisters, the working people of this country will take America back," said Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president, in his address to the NLC graduates. "We will rebuild the American Dream. There aren't any shortcuts or easy answers. We'll do it the hard way, which is also the right way. And we will need each other to do it. Your role is important. And so I ask you, in your own way, by your own lights, to go forward from here to turn your dreams into reality and to be the best union members, the best leaders and the best people you can be."

Of all of the unions represented among this year's NLC graduates, the IBEW was the largest.

The following members received
Bachelor of Arts degrees:
James Patrick Alle Local 11 Los Angeles Labor Safety & Health
Erik W. Bade Local 159 Madison, Wis. Labor Education
Kathleen A. Barber Local 617 San Mateo, Calif. Construction Management
Gary A. Beckstrand Local 354 Salt Lake City Labor Education
John F. Bourne Local 22 Omaha, Neb. Business Administration
Paul S. Brenstrom Local 145 Rock Island, Ill. Construction Management
Shannon N. Clanton Local 558 Sheffield, Ala. Construction Management
Christopher L. Comb Local 725 Terre Haute, Ind. Construction Management
John J. Dickinson IV Local 236 Albany, N.Y. Construction Management
Zachary Esquibel Local 68 Denver Business Administration
Aaron G. Gerding Local 26 Washington, D.C. Labor Safety & Health
Paul A. Hahn Local 26 Washington, D.C. Business Administration
Brandi P. Harmon Local 2113 Tullahoma, Tenn. Business Administration
Marion A. Hill Local 369 Louisville, Ky. Construction Management
Jeremy P. Hodges Local 305 Fort Wayne, Ind. Labor Safety & Health
Robbie D. Joiner Local 347 Des Moines, Iowa Construction Management
Julius G. Kigondu Local 26 Washington, D.C. Construction Management
Kevin N. Klinghammer Local 146 Decatur, Ill. Construction Management
Robert D. Komec Local 1920 North Platte, Nev. Business Administration
James R. Long, Jr. Local 4 St. Louis Union Leadership & Admin., Political Economy of Labor
Cory V. McCray Local 24 Baltimore Business Administration
Terrance L. McKinch Local 948 Flint, Mich. Labor Safety & Health
Gary E. Mitchell Local 369 Louisville, Ky. Labor Safety & Health
Frank D. Muia Local 236 Albany, N.Y. Labor Studies
Christopher E. Parsels Local 108 Tampa, Fla. Union Leadership & Admin.
Enochius H. Rhymes Local 480 Jackson, Miss. Business Administration
Marty L. Riesburg Local 22 Omaha, Neb. Business Administration
Adam B. Sayer Local 650 Salt Lake City Construction Management
Brooks C. Slater Local 24 Baltimore Construction Management
Chad E. Smith Local 1912 Southern Pines, N.C. Business Administration
Anna R. Sykes Local 21 Downers Grove, Ill. Business Administration
Tina L. Tyler Local 824 Tampa, Fla. Labor Studies
Christian J. Wagner Local 520 Austin, Texas Business Administration
Justin B. Young Local 252 Ann Arbor, Mich. Construction Management
Jayson H. Zimmerman Local 3 New York Construction Management
The following members received
Bachelor of Science degrees:
Elizabeth J. Fox Local 3 New York Emergency Readiness & Response Management



IBEW graduates at the 2014 NLC graduation ceremony at the Kirkland Center in Silver Spring, Md.

Photo credit: Photos by Bill Burke Photography, used with permission from the NLC Flickr account.


National Labor College President Paula E. Peinovich addresses graduates at the 2014 NLC graduation ceremony at the Kirkland Center in Silver Spring, Md.

Photo credit: Photos by Bill Burke Photography, used with permission from the NLC Flickr account.