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Inspirational Student Highlights College Library ‘Countdown’ Event

Featured speaker John Wardlow Jr. and Penn College President Davie Jane Gilmour share the dais at Monday's Madigan Library 'countdown' A model of persistence − and a shining example of a library’s vital importance to a community of lifelong learners − helped Pennsylvania College of Technology launch a 365-day countdown toward dedication of the Roger and Peggy Madigan Library on its main campus in Williamsport.

John Wardlow Jr. of Williamsport, an accounting major in Penn College’s School of Business and Computer Technologies, told fellow students, faculty, staff and supporters of the college − all gathered for a countdown celebration − that the adult literacy program at the local public library marked the beginning of his quest for a college degree.

“I am realizing my dream of attending college and enjoying the opportunity to network and meet new people and learn new things,” the 47-year-old Wardlow said. “I am grateful for the guidance and encouragement I received from Martha Hunter at The Learning Center, and look forward to finishing my degree at Penn College.”

Once he obtained his General Equivalency Diploma, he said, he received a letter from the state Department of Education, telling him that once-closed doors now would be open.

“That brought tears to my eyes when I realized that I was closer to my dream of attending college,” he said. “It is a wonderful experience to be on campus, meeting new people and learning new things. I feel really motivated and excited; a feeling of accomplishing something in my life.”

Wardlow said it is a privilege to take part in the library event, which marks his transition from high-school dropout to focused college student.

“I had no goals, no sense of direction, a lot of time on my hands,” he explained.

A truck driver by profession, he left school after 10th grade, married young and drifted through a number of odds-and-ends jobs. But through it all, he maintained the urge to return to school − and he overcame obstacle after obstacle in pursuit of that quest.

“When I started, I didn’t even know how to turn on a computer!” he recalled.

Wardlow was introduced by Hunter, an adult-education instructor at the center (a service of James V. Brown Library in Williamsport) at Monday’s countdown event. Hunter also spoke about the facility’s role in the community and the importance of literacy.

“John Wardlow entered the GED program at The Learning Center with a total test score that was 160 points less than he needed to pass. He was new in the city and had not yet established a local support system,” she said. “But, upon his arrival here, he was determined to pursue goals he had made for himself.”

Hunter noted that Wardlow had been out of school for more than 20 years, which only made the schoolwork that much more challenging.

“With incredible persistence, John stuck with the program and, within 1 1/2 years, he reached his goal of obtaining his GED,” she added, explaining that he also decided to pursue accounting in college. “John is a highly motivated individual and, because of that quality, he is now in his second year at Penn College pursuing his degree.”

Wardlow also was helped by the college’s New Choices/New Options career-exploration program, which encourages goal-setting and decision-making to set people on the track to employability.

“In February 2003, John completed a 60-hour New Choices/New Options program with perfect attendance,” noted Patricia S. Gordon, program coordinator. “I recall him being intensely interested in what NC/NO offered, and he was an enthusiastic participant in class discussions.

“As I look back,” she added, “I can see that he has diligently followed his career plan almost to the letter. I never encountered him when he wasn’t smiling. He identified his own potential barriers and proactively sought ways to overcome them. John is an inspiration to me and to how the New Choices/New Options program provides a “hand up” for those who are willing to work hard.”

Penn College President Davie Jane Gilmour said of Wardlow: “You prove to us how important it is that our two libraries − the one on this campus and the one in downtown Williamsport − work together for the good of our community. We will do so, and you will be an inspiration to us, as we work together now and in the future.”

The president noted that Penn College will partner with the Friends of the James V. Brown Library to host this year’s book sale on Saturday, Nov. 5. The sale will be held in the College Avenue Labs facility on campus. She also said a campuswide drive to collect books for the sale from students, faculty and staff would begin immediately.

The library countdown celebration, held on the lawn of the Student and Administrative Services Center, north of the library construction site, included a picnic, balloon launch and live entertainment. For those who attended, the price of admission was the donation of a new children’s book. The college will donate all of the books to local nonprofit agencies.

Gilmour said she felt it was very appropriate to use the occasion to celebrate literacy and the connections between the public library and Penn College, as well as the college’s anticipation of the opening of its new library next fall.

“We feel very fortunate as we watch our dream of a new college library come true,” she said. “Roger and Peggy Madigan − for whom our library is named − committed their lives to public service. We want to ensure that the Madigan Library is committed to service, as well.”

When completed next summer, the three-story library will have 1,000 seats (the current library has 288), a two-story reading room and the largest open computer lab on campus. For more information, visit the Madigan Library Web site.

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