None other than Steve Sisolak, the 30th governor of Nevada, spent part of his busy morning passionately telling students about the respect he has for them and the sacrifices they are making to attend college.
Gov. Sisolak spoke to students in WNC’s Latino Leadership Academy and the Nursing program, covering topics such as the importance of earning a college education, believing in yourself, making sound choices, Spanish Heritage Month and the Office of New Americans.
Sisolak began his speech to Latino students, championing the value of attending a community college.
“I’m a big believer in community colleges,” Sisolak said. “You get professors who are here … they are on the ground floor. It is real-world experience. It’s the best you can ever get, not just from a financial viewpoint but the hands on and one-on-one touch you get from your professors. I can tell you it’s an experience that will not be duplicated anyplace else. You just don’t have it when you get to UNR, UNLV and other institutions. Take advantage of it. It’s really important that you get every little bit that you can get out of this.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to end up in a terminal degree. Maybe you’re taking a few courses and learning some skills that you didn’t have before. When I was on the Board of Regents we would have single moms who would come and learn a job skill so they could support themselves and their children. That’s a great thing.”
Sisolak’s educational path started in the Midwest and continued in Nevada. Like the single moms he referred to who are attending college to better themselves and their families, Sisolak experienced a similar challenge in raising his own family.
As a single father, Sisolak emphasized education to his daughters, Carley and Ashley. Both graduated from UNLV — Carley with a master’s degree and Ashley with a law degree.
“Our education system, to me, is a true equalizer. It’s something that gives everyone a chance,” Sisolak said. “I know it’s a tough juggling act. You have school responsibilities, family responsibilities, work responsibilities. I know college is becoming more expensive, but it’s not an expense. It’s an investment in your future. I implore you to take advantage of the opportunity that you have at Western.”
It certainly was for Sisolak, who wowed the students with the story of his first job as a caddy as a 13 year old.
“We got paid $2.75 for 18 holes, so for 4 hours I was lugging golf clubs around the golf course,” he said. “And to think that I went through college and I got a degree, a master’s degree and now I’m the governor of the state of Nevada. Nobody would have ever believed that. I want you to have the same opportunities I’ve had. Just keep believing in yourself.”
Sisolak learned blue-collar values while being raised in Milwaukee, Wis., working full time to finance his bachelor’s degree in business at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He earned a Master’s of Business Administration degree from UNLV in 1978, then found his niche professionally by creating his own communications business in Las Vegas.
Sisolak revealed that he hasn’t made many speaking appearances at schools during the current health pandemic. Instead, he has reached out to schools through Zoom conferences.
“This is a real thrill today,” he said. “They don’t let me get out in very many classrooms anymore. They keep me kind of isolated for good reason, and I understand that. But I really love meeting with people.”
The governor also stopped by to visit with aspiring nurses in WNC’s highly touted Nursing program, which was recently recognized as Best in the West by Nursing Process.
“I know what you do as a group. Thank you for what you do,” he said. “I believe in all of you. I think you can be and do whatever you want, just stick with it. The state of Nevada needs more nurses and healthcare professionals.”
WNC President Dr. Vincent Solis imparted to the governor how much his visit meant to the college and voiced the importance of what the state does for students in higher education.
“I want to thank you on behalf of the Western family,” Dr. Solis said. “I know you are leading us through a very difficult period. And we can’t thank you enough for not only taking the time to visit with us and our students on campus but for everything you do, night and day, for Nevada. We are extremely grateful for your leadership.
“I also want to thank you for the support we’ve had from the Governor’s Office through state grants for some of the amazing equipment that we have on our campus. I just can’t thank you enough for this equipment, which allows our students to stay on top of their game.”
LLA students presented Sisolak with a gift basket and Dr. Solis impressed him with a handcrafted leather belt he made.