Celebrating another successful Capstone Course

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Melissa Brickey, Executive Director of Diversity Awareness Partnership, delivered the keynote address at the Starkloff Career Academy Capstone Course Fall Graduation, a thrilling item to check off her bucket list. She kicked off an evening of celebration, as ten job seekers with disabilities were awarded their diplomas. She commended the graduates for fully embracing this one-of-a-kind opportunity.

“We’re all constantly evolving — in our personal lives, in our relationships and in our careers,” Melissa professed. “Anything we choose to do that supports our evolution deserves recognition, so congratulations for choosing to learn and to grow.”

Melissa recalled how the isolation she experienced as a young person with a disability helped her discover her ‘Personal Why,’ the phrase she uses to describe the one true passion that motivates her to get out of bed in the morning and strive to make a difference.

“It is essential to understand your Personal Why and to find situations, including jobs and career paths, that support it,” Melissa told the gathering of graduates, family, friends and SDI staff. “Through my work at DAP, I get the gift of living out my Personal Why every day, but it certainly took trying out a lot of different career paths to get there.”

In a moment of levity, she recounted her desperate attempts to get on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, a longstanding ambition that’s also on her bucket list. Naming her cat Ellen and sending photos of her beloved pet are just a few of her vain attempts to grab the famous comedian’s attention.

The moral of the story: Never lose hope, no matter how crazy or far-fetched a goal might seem.

The graduates themselves then took turns sharing their thoughts on the Capstone Course experience. Gratitude was the overriding theme of the evening, with many graduates expressing appreciation for the unique curriculum and personally thanking Susan Menhard, Director of the Career Academy.

Anthony, a legally blind job seeker with an MBA and a background in payroll and accounting, described how his career had taken an unexpected detour, resulting in his employment at United Parcel Service as a package sorter. Prior to enrolling in the course, Anthony feared his lack of technological know-how and social-media savvy would prevent him from pursuing the types of jobs that matched his educational background. Susan, however, assured him that the course would help him build these skills at a pace he could handle.

Anthony also expressed admiration for his classmates. Throughout the course, he drew strength from their individual stories of perseverance. “To be with these amazing people, who really have had some major things they’ve had to overcome, it’s been so inspiring to me,” he said. “It’s just been a very enlightening, very transformative experience, and I thank Susan constantly for allowing me to be part of this.”

James, a graduate with a diverse professional background including stints in HR, career development and tech support, has achieved full-time employment since completing the course. He recalled going into the class with skepticism, believing himself to be the real employment expert in the room. He left the class, however, with a sense of humility and renewed perspective.

“Susan gave me the courage to once again stand on my skills and abilities, to trust my desire to serve,” James explained. “That’s kind of my forte, my gift … to serve my community. I’m so appreciative to Susan for accepting me into this class.”

As the ceremony concluded and guests prepared to mingle and enjoy refreshments, Jason Hartsfield, SDI’s Adult Career Services Coordinator, had a message for the graduates. Starkloff’s commitment to their career development is ongoing, and they should not hesitate to make use of SDI resources.

“Any time you want to have a resume looked at, any time you want to do more practice interviews, any time you want us to set up an informational interview with one of our corporate partners – we are here to do that,” Jason declared. “The class is not the end; the class is only the beginning.”

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