Tracy brings workforce knowledge, WSD family history to encourage graduates at Travis State Jail in Austin
Graduation speaker Don Tracy offered an invaluable blend of workforce training, education experience, and family history to Windham School District (WSD) GED and vocational graduates at the Travis State Jail in Austin earlier this year. As director of business operations and marketing for the Austin Community College (ACC)’s continuing education division, Tracy is a 15-year veteran of human resource management and workforce education. He is also the son of Dr. Chris Tracy, Ed.D., who played a key role in the early development of prison education in Texas and who is a former WSD superintendent, so he has a personal understanding of the value of Texas correctional education. Members of the Tracy family were special guests at this prison graduation ceremony earlier this year.
Don Tracy encouraged the 19 GED and 17 vocational graduates in attendance to “celebrate the doors that are open to you after this graduation, imagine what tomorrow looks like and take more steps to improve yourself.
“If you have earned your GED or completed a vocational program in prison, take the next important steps after you are released: look to the community colleges in your hometowns, look for more vocational training opportunities, and continue to move forward in life. Every step you take is important and meaningful, and we will celebrate and honor the steps you’ve taken today. Remember the impact you have on people’s lives as you talk to them. Even those small conversations have a ripple effect.
“My dad was fond of telling me that about 90 percent of life is just showing up. You’ve got to be there,” Tracy said. “You have to be in class. You have to be there in the lives of your family, friends and coworkers. … You can have a positive impact on them after you leave prison. So dream big, celebrate the steps of success, and always be there for others.”
Don Tracy then introduced his father, Dr. Chris Tracy, who also praised the WSD students’ success.
“I’ve been attending GED graduation ceremonies in TDCJ for nearly 50 years,” he said. “I started in the prison system in 1965, and the spring of 1966 went to my first graduation ceremony. These celebrations are a very important part of school operations and a way to recognize important accomplishments. What you celebrate today is very important to you, your families, and your communities! I have enjoyed this experience for many years, and I’m sure there will be more celebrations. My wife, and Don’s mother, Pat Tracy, has also had the honor of helping develop some of the early education programs for females in the Texas prison system; we are all believers and supporters of the importance of education and job training in the Texas prison system.”
Travis State Jail Warden Kelly Forrester of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice followed Don and Dr. Tracy on the program, encouraging graduates to persevere in efforts to better their lives, and she thanked family members in attendance for supporting incarcerated loved ones.
“I understand what you’re going through,” she told graduates. “I recognize that you have lost so very much before you came to this point. There have been people telling you what to do and where to go, and you’ve lost a lot of privileges, family members and possessions. However, today you gained something that can never be taken away from you: an education. It’s in your mind, it’s yours and you own it, so go make the most of it.
“I’m very, very proud of you,” she said. “You accomplished this goal in a prison setting. I know what your everyday struggle is --it is almost impossible to reach this goal, but you persevered. If you can do this in our environment, you can succeed in anything that is going to come at you in the outside world. Kudos to you!
“Families: I’m here every weekend, and I know a lot of you by name,” she said. “I’m so proud of you for coming and supporting these men. It’s not easy to walk into a prison and spend time with a loved one. The love that you have for your offender does make a difference. Thank you! We couldn’t do this without you and your support. Thank you for being here for them.”
ACC representatives Gene Bender, director of external affairs, and Hector Aguilar, ACC executive dean for continuing education, also attended the ceremony at Travis State Jail.
Travis State Jail - Don Tracy