April 16, 2019
Jacob Hannah, GC alum, selected as commencement speaker
Hannah credits his experience at Garrett for creating 'opportunities he never thought were possible
'Opportunity is in greatest supply where there is none'- this is the personal motto of Jacob Israel Hannah, Garrett College's 2019 commencement speaker.
Hannah grew up with six-siblings – all of whom were homeschooled. Growing up on a mountaintop farm in nearby Davis, W.Va., he learned the appreciation of stewarding clean water, sustainable agroforestry, hunting, and the bond between man, mountain, and maker.
He entered the workforce directly from high school and spent his time renovating dilapidated houses in Davis, and working as a lineman with Full Circle Concepts. However, it eventually became clear to him that he wanted to follow a different direction.
This intuition became the driving force behind Hannah's pursuit of fulfilling a purpose, which eventually led him to study at Garrett College and Bucknell University.
There are many reasons why Hannah was selected as the 2019 Garrett College commencement speaker, according to GC President Richard Midcap.
"Jacob embodies all of the qualities we want our graduates to possess," said Dr. Midcap. "We strive to develop graduates who want to use what they've learned to help others and move our community forward. That describes Jacob to a tee."
As a first-generation college student, Hannah made a seamless transition from homeschool to higher education. He enrolled in the business management associate degree program at Garrett College.
One of the deciding factors in choosing a college for Hannah was the financial advantages of attending Garrett, along with a desire to graduate with little to no student debt.
"By the time I graduated from Garrett, I had zero debt – everything was practically covered by a combination of scholarships and GC's low tuition rates," he noted. "This is an opportunity everyone should take advantage of."
According to Hannah, his time at GC allowed for exploration and discovery, in terms of how his many interests, passions, and goals could best be utilized to his full potential.
"One of the things that positively impacted my experience at Garrett College was the intimate, small classes, allowing for one-on-one rapport with my professors," Hannah stated. "I was definitely not expecting this; however, through conversations and engagement, I was able to hone down exactly what I was chasing after."
For Hannah, this would be a desire to enter the field of sustainability management.
During his time at Garrett College, he was recognized for many achievements, excelling not only academically, but also as a peer tutor, active volunteer in the community, and for his involvement and engagement in a multitude of activities and projects across campus.
He was also a member of the Garrett College Omicron Chapter of the prestigious Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.
One of the most profound opportunities for Hannah arose as he was selected to participate in the Bucknell Community College Scholars Program during the summer between his two years at GC at Bucknell University, a private liberal arts institution in Lewisburg, Pa.
As a result, he was awarded the extremely competitive two-year transfer scholarship to further his education at Bucknell University, following graduation from Garrett College with his associate's degree.
After graduating from Bucknell University with a bachelor's degree in management for sustainability, he studied cultural sustainability in France and Scotland for six months.
Testing out his triple-bottom line sustainability concepts, Hannah spent three years developing revitalization initiatives for coal towns in central Pennsylvania and food security programs in western Maryland.
When an opportunity presented itself for Hannah to give back to the community college that gave him so much, he was elated.
"I wasn't sure what my next step after graduation was, but I did know that there were opportunities to stay connected and give back to Garrett, all while developing myself professionally as well," Hannah stated. "Needless to say, I was empowered to be able to volunteer a year of service as an alumnus who could interweave with the student and staff environments."
Serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member, he actively sought out ways to employ his degree in sustainability management with the College's Students in Need Group (SING) – specifically with the on-campus food pantry, a resource that is utilized heavily by GC students.
Hannah made it a personal priority to determine how SING could continue to aid in student success while reducing overhead costs for the non-profit organization as a whole.
To address the complex challenges that faced the organization, Hannah was instrumental in forming a collaborative partnership between SING, a nearby church (Shepherd of the Hills), and a large area food bank. This resulted in a 75 percent decrease in shopping costs for SING.
He also implemented a training program, inviting other church partners and staff members at Garrett College to be part of the solution. Hannah's efforts resulted in establishing a successful framework to support the structural integrity of SING, enabling the organization to move forward into the future.
Currently, he serves as the inaugural Conservation Coordinator for Coalfield Development, based in Huntington, W. Va.
A nonprofit organization, the mission of Coalfield Development is to support a family of social enterprises that inspire the courage to grow, activate the creativity to transform perceived liabilities into assets, and cultivate the community needed for real opportunity in Appalachia through mentorship, education, and employment.
Hannah is grateful for the opportunity to work for Coalfield, an organization that not only strives to build a new economy during the wake of the coal industry's rapid decline in West Virginia, but also embodies a revitalized and renewed vision for the Appalachian region.
"For too long, Appalachians have been the recipients of exploitation and bad ideas, now it's our time to decide our own fate and blaze our own trail," noted Hannah. "That's what we're doing here, rebuilding our economy and communities from the ground up – by Appalachians, for Appalachians."
In his spare time, he enjoys writing music for his guitar and piano, getting lost in the woods, spending time with his family, and harvesting fresh dank memes from the internet.
Garrett College's 47th commencement will take place on Saturday, May 18th in the Community Aquatic and Recreation Center gymnasium on GC's campus. The commencement ceremony will start at 10:30 a.m. and is open to the public.