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Unmotivated student found his calling in an MCC class. Now he'll speak at commencement May 13

April 13, 2021
By Tim Engle

Chance Walker, 2021 Commencement Speaker

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" may be a common theme for commencement speakers, but Chance Walker, 24, has lived it.

At Blue Springs High School he got good grades but "didn't really show passion" for his education. At the University of Central Missouri, his father's alma mater, he planned to major in drafting and design, also just like his dad. But he was immature, he says — not prepared for college life or doing the work. He dropped out at Thanksgiving break.

He thought he'd work for a year and then reset. His job at a movie theater in Independence stretched to four years. He felt like he was wasting his life.

Finally, Walker decided to try college again. His first semester at MCC-Blue River, the spring of 2019, "I got a bunch of D's and nearly failed all my classes."

But he persevered, buckled down. "Each semester after that, I got better and better grades." He made the Dean's List both the spring and fall semesters of 2020.

Now he's about to be the student commencement speaker at Metropolitan Community College's 2021 ceremony, May 13 at Starlight Theatre. A speaker from the graduating class was added to the MCC commencement program in 2018, with students selected from one campus on a rotating schedule; this year it was Blue River. Walker is working with BR speech instructor Dee Mathison as his moment in the Starlight spotlight nears.

This guy who for a long time didn't take his education seriously is planning to become … a teacher. He has nearly finished his associate in arts (A.A.) degree at MCC and will start at UMKC this fall. He hopes to earn teaching degrees in both history and English.

"As a high school teacher, I want to find the students' passion and I want to educate them on steps to achieve that passion," he says.

Walker met his inspiration for a career in education his second semester at MCC: history instructor Patrick Kirkwood. He has since taken three more classes with Kirkwood. "He just makes learning history really fun and easy," Walker says. He's also a fan of Kirkwood exams, which give students some choices of questions and essay topics.

Likewise, the teacher has kind words about the student. Walker's "desire to succeed, his thoughtfulness, and the value of his contributions to class discussions and debates have consistently impressed me," Kirkwood says. "His clear plan for his future is similarly admirable."

Not surprisingly, it was Kirkwood who suggested Walker as a commencement speaker: "I was confident he'd have something to say, and that a wider audience would benefit from hearing him say it."

One point the speaker is likely to make at Starlight: Students need to talk to their instructors. "I ask a question every single time I don't understand something."

Walker, by the way, says he was predisposed to liking history (like father, like son again), and he sees himself teaching Western civilization or world history. In the four Kirkwood classes, he has written papers on topics including various British royal dynasties, the memorialization of Japanese kamikaze pilots, Thomas Paine's "Common Sense," and the development of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

At MCC, Walker's perseverance has been marked by more than just plowing ahead. He has also looked back — retaking courses from early on that he failed, got D's in or withdrew from.

If Chance, son of Travis and Stacy Walker of Blue Springs, became czar of higher education, he'd have all students start at a two-year college.

"I really think MCC allows you to mature, allows you to understand what you want to do," he says. "It offers you a hand to help guide yourself through adult life, and it's way cheaper than the four-year institutions. I really do treasure my experience at MCC."