The pride and celebratory mood far outweighed the somber as eleven students graduated from Ogeechee Technical College’s Law Enforcement Academy Thursday morning.
Family members, friends, instructors, former students, law enforcement officers, and supporters from the community gathered Thursday at OTC’s Kennedy Building Auditorium for the program ceremony.
Thursday’s ceremony was slightly different than years past as it was the bookend to the eight year journey of one of the most respected academies in the state.
Academy Director Jim Mitchell, Instructor Matthew Rhodes, and Program Founder Greg Rabeler each took time to address the audience during an emotional presentation.
Rabeler, who launched the program in 2009 with Chris Findley and served as the program
director until 2015, attended as the ceremony’s guest speaker. He reminisced on the hardships, hurdles, and hoorays over the life of the Academy. He touted the courage, character, creativity, work ethic, and humility that each of the OTC LEA students possess.
Raebler doted over the pride he and the other instructors have in the program and what it has produced over the years.
“There was never anything that we did directly or indirectly that was not about enhancing the learning experience of our students,” Rabeler said. “If you want to know about our academy, don’t ask anyone but our students.”
“We only existed because of the students. So as we stand up here today, what are we to contemplate? If you perceive the closing of the Academy as a failure, you are truly, truly missing the message,” Rabeler finished.
Graduates crossed the stage to receive a hug from Mrs. Betty Robbins, a certificate from Director Jim Mitchell, a handshake from Greg Rabeler, and dog tags from Matthew Rhodes. [Gallery below]
Following the presentation of certificates, Taylor Steelman was presented with the Top Academic Achievement Award and William James Walker V with the Top Gun Award.
The audience also heard from Betty Robbins who has served as administrative staff for the
Academy. She shared heartfelt insight into the growth and perseverance she watched over the course of different classes. “This is not something easy, to come to this Academy, to work and train. There have been a lot of tears and sweat. You all have done an excellent job. I know you all will do well. You have proved that already. I know you will serve our community well. I love you all.”
Matthew Rhodes, an instrumental instructor, offered a few words comparing the program to his experience in the military. “Hands down…this class was some of the best kids I have ever put through the program,” he said.
Slightly out of sorts, the floor was opened for former students to rise to the podium and share their perspectives on the Academy. Several spoke, as did adjunct instructor Tom Safrin and Shelly Brinkley, who spent several years working at the Academy. The common theme of each? Honor. Honored to be a student. Honored to be an instructor. Honored to have worked alongside the team.
In celebrating the class, Mitchell, Rabeler and Rhodes all celebrated the accomplishments of the Academy, a bright light in each of their hearts that will clearly never dim.
Mitchell closed the ceremony with a message that lingered in the room:
A wise man once told me that one good pebble thrown into a quiet pond has ripples that go on for eternity. OTC LEA has thrown hundreds of pebbles. You can’t stop us. Change is inevitable and that change will come through the careers of the noble graduates of a program that sought to be something more. My students will be the 12, the masters of their craft, those most tested and well trained. They will become the teachers of follow on generations and they will effect the positive change that our nation so desperately needs. We did not teach these young men and women just for today, but for posterity.
There is a special pride we take away from here, in knowing that we did everything we could have possibly done, and more… We produced a better product. We graduated the most well trained, well disciplined, most technically and tactically proficient, most highly motivated, and most educated thinkers, guardians, problem solvers, and keepers of the peace ever to grace this profession.
Lead the Way, Sheepdogs.
“The truth is…we can never be closed. The truth is…we can never be shut down. We will always be in some community in some form or fashion.” -Greg Rabeler
Congratulations to the Spring Class of 2017!
Larry Ben Thompson
Williams James Walker V
The OTC Law Enforcement Academy is one of six under the Technical College System of Georgia. You can read more about the impact of the Law Enforcement Academy here.