Jim Frerichs was the last of six students - one from each of Nebraska's community colleges - to speak April 16 during the annual Phi Theta Kappa All-Nebraska Academic Team Recognition Day in Lincoln.
He told the luncheon audience at the Cornhusker Marriott that "all of our lives are a surprise. Where we go, what we do, the things we will experience, and how our decisions will affect us are all unknown."
He continued, "We don't know where we will end up. We only know where we begin. That is the most important part of the journey. That is actually the only part of the experience that we truly have any control over. That one choice. That one decision has more to do with the outcome than any other single factor: The choice to start."
Frerichs was one of 23 Nebraska community college students, and one of five from Southeast Community College, to be honored during the annual ceremony that recognizes achievements and includes numerous inspirational stories.
State Sen. Greg Adams, speaker of the Legislature, gave a message to the audience, which included the students, family members and representatives from the six community colleges. Dr. Jack Huck, president of SCC, served as emcee for the event.
Frerichs was joined by fellow SCC honorees Shylo Buresh of Friend, Rachel Sinn of Mahaska, Kan., and Paige Smith of Overton. Elizabeth Snider of Maywood also was honored, but she was unable to attend the event. Each student received a certificate and a medallion.
Frerichs, who is scheduled to graduate in June from SCC's Energy Generation Operations program, told his story to the luncheon audience of approximately 140 people.
"Twenty years ago, if you had asked me where I would be and what I would be doing, I can guarantee you there is no chance my answer would have included being a single father of two, raising them in the house I grew up in, and going back to school in the field of Energy Generation Operations," Frerichs said. "Fifteen years ago I would never have expected to be excited about going to school. Ten years ago there is no way I could fathom having the time needed for returning to school. Five years ago the financial obligations would have let school remain a pipe dream. Yet here I am today."
Frerichs, a native of Dunbar and graduate of Syracuse-Dunbar-Avoca High School, said the love and support from his family, friends and community helped get him where he is today. He is a 1990 graduate of Peru State College, having earned a degree in accounting/business management.
He said it was October 2012 when he first gave any thought to the idea of going back to school. A month later he took steps toward that goal. Then came one day in November: SCC's annual Open House.
"That one day led to an entirely different life for me," Frerichs said. "By starting the journey, by making myself drive out to SCC's Milford Campus that day and attending Open House, and by taking time to talk to instructors about the program and be willing to listen was the moment that I allowed others to make choices and decisions that would help me on my path."
Frerichs took Program Chair John Pierce's advice and registered for classes during Open House.
"I have found many times that you cannot control what happens to you," he said. "Your only control is how you react to what has already happened or how you plan for what could. When you are told that even the longest journey starts with a single step, it is the truth. And I realize that without that first step, the rest of the journey is impossible."