Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to attend a graduation at Roxbury Community College, featuring a keynote address by ThreatX CEO Gene Fay. This was not a typical graduation, but rather a celebration of 14 remarkable individuals whose achievements are truly inspiring. These students took part in a unique program called the Roxbury Community College Networking Technology Program, founded and designed by the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission [MRC], an organization focused on bridging the skills gap and diversifying our workforce. MRC created this program specifically to provide cybersecurity training and opportunities to those with disabilities, and as a result, each student in this class walked away from this program with a certificate in Cisco Cybersecurity, a substantial achievement. The students dedicated hundreds of hours to the completion of this course so they can pursue cybersecurity careers; some were just starting out, others had years of experience under their belt, and many were pursuing a lifelong dream. MRC, along with their instructor and support from family, made these dreams not only possible, but obtainable.
Initiatives like these play an important role in addressing the ongoing cybersecurity skills shortage. The industry needs to get creative and recruit in non-traditional ways to start filling the skills gap. In his keynote, Gene Fay talked about his passion for both cybersecurity and helping people find jobs and advised the graduates to never stop learning or networking, and to be tenacious in pursuing their first jobs. After the ceremony, Gene was able to meet with each of the students one-on-one; he had previously connected with many on LinkedIn and even physically handed their resumés to connections he has at other cybersecurity firms. Because of the connections they made on this day, many will be starting careers in cybersecurity within the year. The success of this program has inspired MRC to launch similar programs to provide opportunity and resources to those with disabilities nationwide.
However, opportunity aside, I believe the most significant impact of this program is hope. We live in a society heavily influenced by systemic biases, especially within the workplace. Whether due to race, gender, age, or disabilities, many face the challenge of overcoming predisposed ideas when trying to get hired. There has been an increase in efforts to uproot these biases in recent years, MRC being an inspiring example of said initiatives, but we have a long way to go. This program did many things, but it did not equip these students with the tenacity, talent, and drive they each showed up with. Each of them wanted to learn and each was ready to prove those who did not see their potential otherwise. All they needed was someone to believe in them and their abilities, and that is what MRC has done.
I personally was moved and inspired by this event. As a 21-year-old female approaching my senior year of college, the worries of the real world, such as entering the workforce and finding my place in society, become more prevalent as each day passes. After the brief time I was able to spend with these 14 individuals on their special day, I was left feeling inspired, finding comfort within their stories of triumph and bravery despite having unfavorable odds. The generosity, kindness, and support shown by those at MRC, Roxbury Community College, and by Gene Fay make the world a little bit of a less scary place to enter, knowing that there are people out there rooting for the success of others, not trying to bring them down. I’ve learned the importance of being tenacious, working hard, and advocating for myself and my own success, because nothing comes easily. However, I’ve also learned the importance of practicing gratitude, because there are many things that I, unlike others, do not have to work as hard for due to the privilege I was born with. These individuals have accomplished something that will pave the way for all those who aspire to follow in their footsteps, and as they continue accomplishing what some believed they never would, I hope that their stories will inspire those that they meet in the same way they have inspired me.