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2018 PPCC Commencement Speech to Focus on College as Route out of Poverty

Colorado Springs – May 2, 2108 – Pikes Peak Community College Commencement ceremony is set for  10 a.m. May 12 at the Broadmoor World Arena, 3185 Venetucci Blvd. 

Many of these PPCC graduates represent the ultimate in bootstrapping, raising themselves up from difficult circumstances. In fact, PPCC has more Pell eligible students than any other college in the CO Community College System, suggesting the level of financial hardships they face is unrivaled.

That's what makes this year's keynote speaker so on point. Jenny Schell, a 1994 PPCC graduate and president and co-founder of the local award-winning marketing firm Design Rangers, virtually paid for her entire education with Pell grants. 

Like many PPCC students who go on to attain successful careers in our community, Jenny Schell came from extremely humble beginnings, with the odds stacked against her.  She was raised by her single mom in a rural ghost-town cabin with no running water or electricity and then in a converted school bus traveling the country. 

"After returning to Colorado as a teenager, I made a pivotal decision to either stick with the life I knew or say yes to something far scarier." Schell said. "I decided to enroll at PPCC and commuted 100 miles a day to a school that became my safe place and a classroom that became my home." 

She credits her instructors with giving her the life-changing and real-world skills she needed to eventually start her own design business with her husband, and the rest is history. 

Her inspirational commencement speech conveys the power of saying yes to accepting where you came from, saying yes to finding mentors, saying yes to opportunities that scare you and saying yes to your dreams. 

Many of the graduates will, no doubt, relate to Jenny's talk.  Many have struggled financially. But it's hard to put any single label on PPCC students. They're as diverse -- and in some ways, more diverse -- than the wider community.
Here's a look the Class of 2018 by the numbers:

·         The youngest graduate is 16, and the oldest is 72 

·         59 percent are first-generation college students

·         30 percent represent minorities 

·         29 percent are either active duty, veteran or a dependent

·         44 percent received financial assistance

·         27 percent specifically received Pell grants

·         2,650 students are graduating and 600 plan to attend the ceremony

·         58 percent will receive an associate degree; 42 percent will receive a career or technical certificate. 

·         9 percent are in high school

During the graduation ceremony, three PPCC graduates will be recognized for Outstanding Leadership, Inspirational Achievement and Outstanding Service to the College. A Community Service award will go to a PPCC employee who has contributed his or her time, passion and labor in service to students and the local community.  And, all military and veteran graduates will be awarded with a medallion honoring for their service.


Colorado Springs native, Jenny Schell, is a proud 1994 Pikes Peak Community College graduate with an AAS degree in Graphic Design. In 2007, she and her husband Chris co-founded Design Rangers, out of a longing to be in control of their futures and to model to her two young sons that each of us have the power to design our life. 

Jenny has been deeply involved in the community for many years, joining with other local designers to create Wild Fire Tees during the Waldo Canyon Fire, acting as creative director for local philanthropic initiative Give!, and sharing stories of hope from her eclectic childhood as keynote speaker at Care and Share Food Bank’s 2015 Recipe for Hope. Jenny was honored to have a portion of her childhood story featured in Walmart’s 2016 "Fight Hunger. Spark Change." campaign which raised more than $17 million for Feeding America member food banks. Jenny's most recent talk, "Why Everyday Kindness and Simple Giving Matter" landed her on stage at TEDx Colorado Springs. 

Today, Jenny's focus is on connecting people throughout the community, raising her 15 year-old son, watching (and re-watching) "The Office," and living the mantra of the business hashtag she created – #bearanger – "Be a Ranger" or "Bear Anger," depending on the day.


Established in 1968 and accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, PPCC offers associate degrees, certifications in career and technical fields and its first bachelor degree in emergency services administration starting fall 2018. With three campuses, two learning centers and two military education centers, PPCC provides access to a quality, affordable and flexible education to 19,000 students annually.