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‘Ripple effect’ spreads campuswide message of respect, creativity

International welding artist Rae Ripple, encouraged by a Pennsylvania College of Technology student last fall to drop by campus, honored that invitation Friday with an inspiring daylong visit.

“I absolutely love this school!” she said during a “Live With Rae” morning presentation in the Klump Academic Center, coolly and confidently striding the auditorium stage in an animated and unabashed Q&A.

That session was preceded by a tour and followed by a demonstration in the welding lab, where Ripple put her renowned stamp on a student project – aptly mirroring her enthusiasm for motorcycles – that will be installed outside the Lycoming Engines Metal Trades Center for public display.

Ripple clearly relishes being in the company of other female welders: Skyler R. Graver (left), president of Penn College's American Welding Society student chapter, and classmate Franchesca C. Ybarra. Graver, of Palmerton, and Ybarra, of Williamsport, are majoring in welding and fabrication engineering technology.
Ripple clearly relishes being in the company of other female welders: Skyler R. Graver (left), president of Penn College’s American Welding Society student chapter, and classmate Franchesca C. Ybarra. Graver, of Palmerton, and Ybarra, of Williamsport, are majoring in welding and fabrication engineering technology.

Helping observe Women’s History Month while giving students a candid dose of philosophy as they head for Spring Break, Ripple began the day by recounting her escape from a “world full of darkness” – and acknowledging that even the most despairing moments were crucial to her personal history.

“Repeat after me,” she implored the crowd. “Failures are not failures. They are merely redirections that lead you to other chapters of your life.”

That “Trust the process” mantra, aided by faith and determination, lifted her out of the muck that easily could have defined and derailed her. She broke a cycle of drug-addicted parents, mental health struggles, couch-surfing homelessness and abuse to create both the life she wanted and the art that helps gives it purpose.

Ripple has appeared on “Metal Shop Masters” (Netflix) and “Monster Garage” (Discovery Channel), has been published in Welder magazine, launched a “Free Hug Campaign” and other charitable enterprises, and attracts top dollar for her one-of-a-kind creations from far beyond her Texas roots.

She’s also a social media superstar who nonetheless knows that the internet’s memory is long: “Use it to your benefit, use it in positive ways to market yourself,” she cautioned students, “but think before you post. If you feel something funny in your diaphragm, just don’t do it.”

Ripple is constantly evolving, moving from baking cakes … to painting on sheet metal … to working with tin snips and rivets. She’s been a firefighter and a tow-truck operator, she’s certified in underwater welding, has fabricated a larger-than-life statue of a supermarket chain’s mascot, and believes she may want to try stained glass.

“Some people collect stamps,” she said. “I like to collect skills.”

Sparks fly when Ripple employs a plasma cutter as an artistic tool.
Sparks fly when Ripple employs a plasma cutter as an artistic tool.

“I want people to realize that they’re capable of anything and everything. It doesn’t matter how hard it is or how heavy it is,” she added. “If I can do it, anyone can do it.”

Whatever bad-girl swagger carries her through the day, whatever scars resurface when she imagines herself as a 14-year-old again, they don’t quash her goodhearted “fight to keep the light shining.”

Alluding to both her own adolescent trauma and society’s broader sexualization of women, she beseeched the young men in her audience to be vigilantly reverent: “Protect all your women. Treat them with respect … like you would your mother, your sister … like you would any other female in your family.”

It was a message that ultimately transcended categorization, fitting for her first public speaking engagement since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Whatever you put into the universe, the universe gives back,” she said. “You don’t know what people are going through, so be kind. The smallest gesture can go a million miles.”

(Watch PCToday for more on Ripple’s work with Penn College students)

– Photos by Larry D. Kauffman, digital publishing specialist/photographer (unless otherwise noted)

 

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