Mouth That Roars

Bill Liblick has made a name for himself of National TV Talk Shows where he spouted his outspoken views from the front row. Now he offers you his opinion every week in the "MOUTH THAT ROARS" Column in the Sullivan County Post.

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March 31st, 2016

SUNY Sullivan President Hilgerson: “My Mother Made Me Do It”

Karin Hilgersom who currently serves as President of SUNY Sullivan has been making headlines of late because she has applied for jobs at other colleges.

Hilgersom has taken SUNY Sullivan a long way and has embarked on many new innovative programs such as a health initiative, solar farm project, working with New Hope, and expanding casino gaming hospitality classes that will certainly assist in helping our community college excel and achieve much needed growth. 

Recently I asked Hilgersom to write a guest column – Her goal in the following piece “is to shape a deeper understanding for the reader of the value of community colleges as measured by connections between diverse learners.  These learners, with the help of skilled faculty and staff, help to sustain an educated citizenry and workforce.”

Whether Hilgersom remains at SUNY Sullivan or not, I believe you will appreciate the following guest column and be grateful to have her here as long as we do.


My Mother Made Me Do It

By Karin Hilgersom, President, SUNY Sullivan

My mom and dad barely survived World War II, and their experiences culminated into an appreciation for both life and virtue; an appreciation they passed on to the three daughters that brought them much pride prior to their passing many years ago. 

When I reflect on my life work with thousands of community college students and hundreds of faculty and staff I can honestly say that my mother made me do it. The work of educators with community college students is transformative work; so many lives are changed for the better. 

Some community college students have risen from awful situations, others have lived privileged and safe lives.  When these two worlds connect and collide in the context of a provocative classroom led by expert faculty, that appreciation for both life and virtue can be a joyful shared human experience.  I used to live for these moments when I taught community college learners. And when they occurred in all their glory, I knew my mother, a consummate survivor, would be proud of all of us.  

My mother lost both her parents by the age of seven, and spent 5 and a half years in a Japanese concentration camp on the island of Java, Indonesia, where she was born.  She barely survived malnourishment, abandonment, various forms of adult cruelty, and recalled one occasion where gunfire tore through her sleeping quarters and claimed the life of a child sleeping on a mat nearby.

My mother, Ann, immigrated to the United States in 1955 with her new Dutch husband, three shared dollars, and the quintessential American Dream.  Her childhood story came as a surprise to those who knew her.  She had a peculiar sense of humor that included occasionally pulling out her false teeth just for fun and during conversation with her three daughters. 

Her real teeth, all of them, were destroyed by the war.   We grew up in Central Valley, California, and where my mom was often thought to be a Spanish speaker owing to her light mocha skin and her great smile, a smile that invited connection with others–including interactions in languages she did not know. 

She did not manage to exit World War II without some serious and tragic side-effects, however, including a cigarette habit that claimed her life in 1986, and a deep inner wound that she was not always capable of concealing. 

I’ve been graced with knowing many strong people in my life, people like my mother whose wounds and scars ran deep, but whose ultimate love of life and desire to be good and to do good deeds comprised the gestalt of their characters.

Such strength in character is magnetic and fascinating. 

I’ve worked with hundreds of community college learners who possessed such strength, and many more who came to realize how far it could carry them as a result of their higher educational experience. 

I’ve worked with hundreds more who lacked both motivation and confidence, and fortunately there are many faculty and staff, including at SUNY Sullivan, who through academic and human connection begin the arduous process of educational transformation.  

For readers who have never been a college student at an open access college, spaces where learners of all ages and walks of life can come together and chart a solid course to career and personal success regardless of starting points; SUNY Sullivan welcomes you. 

If you do not yet have a college degree, we are here for you. 

For those readers who have earned their degrees, take some time to understand the important work occurring at your community’s college and perhaps avoid presumption if you can. What you will see was not built in a day, and adding “more” (courses, programs) is probably not as easy to do as it looks (trust me, after thirty years of dealing with scarce budgets and state education departments, doing “more” with “less” is not always possible despite the best of intentions). 

Also, consider taking a community learning class, or explore with college staff teaching one and depending upon your talent or skill set.   

If you have made it to this last paragraph, presumably in proper sequence, this writer is humbled.  I’ll close by noting that it has been my experience that community colleges cannot be all things for all people, but we often try.  We do need support in order to thrive–fiscal support and verbal recognition.  Many of our community supporters, folks we are grateful to have in our corner, care deeply for the students that learn with us. They understand that our complex work leads to many success stories, and the people behind these success stories play a vital role in building happy, healthy, and prosperous communities.  

For More information on SUNY Sullivan – Visit their website at

Bill Liblick has made a name for himself of National TV Talk Shows where he spouted his outspoken views from the front row. Now he offers you his opinion every week in the “MOUTH THAT ROARS” Column in the Sullivan County Post

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