Mike Larkin considers himself an average guy. For more than 10 years, he had a stable job cleaning construction sites. When the recession hit in 2008, his cleanup jobs dried up with the construction industry.
Unable to find full-time work, he wandered into Centralia College East in Morton, not expecting there would be much opportunity for “an old guy who hadn’t been in school for 30 years.”
He was wrong.
“I thought college would be impossibly hard for a guy like me. I didn’t think I’d be able to do it. I thought it would be like high school,” Larkin said. “But, now that I’m here, I see that college is for everybody. We’re all here by choice and we’re all working to better ourselves. There’s so much support and everybody wants everyone else to succeed. It’s motivating.”
Larkin is working towards an associate degree in power plant operations. He takes most of his classes at CC East, where he also works 10 hours a week in landscaping. With his full load of classes, Larkin is busier than he expected, but he’s never been happier.
“I love the CC East campus,” he said. “It’s a small, personal environment and everyone is so supportive and positive. I can’t do enough for CC East. Everyone here has done so much for me.”
Larkin and classmate Andrea Pinkerton, who is earning her associate degree in accounting, spent the summer clearing brush and weeds, and repairing the CC East sign at the main entrance. Larkin alone has spent almost 80 hours on the project, which was more than he initially bargained for when he took the job.
“The landscaping was so overgrown. There was lichen growing on everything and there were dogwood trees growing everywhere,” he said. “You couldn’t even see CC East from the highway anymore.”
Larkin and Pinkerton slogged away at the project over the course of the summer, initially removing the invasive weeds and grasses before shoveling in new bark, planting flowers, and repainting the sign. Today, they’re both proud of the work they’ve done.
“It’s a great feeling to drive by and see CC East again and know that we did that,” Larkin said. “It makes me feel really good because we did this for the college.”
For more information on CC East, visit www.centralia.edu/cce.