Commencement Feature: Jarret Orcutt

Jarret Orcutt, wearing sunglasses and a black SGA shirt outside, kneels on green grass with a hand over his dog to pose for a photo.
Jared Libby

What would you say about yourself if you had nothing but time to reflect on your life? Would you be proud of who you are? Or would you have regrets? Prison is often where seconds, minutes, hours, days, and even years pass, dusk and dawn acting as the silent audience to your punishment. How did you get here? What is it worth to transform yourself into a contributing member of society? This story starts in a cell but does not end in one.

Jarret Orcutt is a trailblazer in TMCC’s community, a loving father, and a graduating student who reached extraordinary heights educationally, personally, and professionally through unbridled diligence in his studies, advocating for ex-convicts like himself to take back their future. Here is a compelling tale of vindication through academic fulfillment from another scholar of the Class of 2024.

The Strongest Prison Is the One You Are Afraid to Leave, Even When the Door Is Open

Orcutt was born and raised in Sparks and originally attended TMCC after high school, but it didn’t last, as he withdrew from all five enrolled classes shortly after. With no direction and a heart filled with unrest, he fell into crime, susceptible to its promises as a young man, illegally trafficking copious drugs while earning shady money. Eventually, the police caught wind of his misdeeds, arrested him, and charged him with a felony. “I deserve the time I got. I broke the law, and I knew the consequences,” Orcutt said. His world came to a screeching halt.

Flash forward to 10 years left inside, Orcutt becomes introspective and asks himself, “What am I doing with my life? How am I going to change?” A reborn fire inside him yearned for literature, with the leaves of each page stirring the now-lifelong learner to reinvent himself. Selflessness intertwined with a sense of responsibility to those in similar situations guided his helpful behavior. Soon, he was devouring novels, overseeing library operations, and undertaking roles in education. Toward the end of his sentence, the correctional institution relocated him to Northern Nevada Transitional Housing (NNTH), where non-violent offenders can earn their degree or certificate online at a computer lab forged out of their partnership with TMCC. Orcutt would knock out seven classes in his first semester.

“I was voracious for more. When I returned to school, I was like, ‘Man, these kids will be so smart. I’m screwed.’ I hadn’t been in high school for 20 years. Then I started, and it was easy. I’d post in the discussion as if I were talking to my children. I loved it. I’ve always been a lifelong learner, even when I wasn’t in education,” Orcutt said.

“I continued to take classes. As many as I could, even in winter and summer, working in the resource center. I wanted to be part of the student government, and the Business and Entrepreneurship Club naturally appealed to me. I love making something out of nothing. Being able to grow an idea into an asset that helps people,” Orcutt continued.

Orcutt dove into TMCC’s campus culture with a resolve he’d been searching for after all that time spent incarcerated, seeming like a distant memory as he vigorously pursued credits and nurtured fellowships with those taking a genuine interest in his success. He found solace in his faculty members and peers, encouraging him to strive for prudent mantles such as the Business and Entrepreneurship Club (BE-Club) president, the History and Political Science Club president, and the Student Government Association (SGA) vice president.

Through a conventional evolution, Orcutt seized the opportunities higher education welcomingly presented him. Before long, he scheduled events, nominated guest speakers, and hosted diplomatic conversations, rewarding him with a holistic college experience while meticulously maintaining a 4.0 GPA. In SGA, he could represent former inmates and be a voice for a marginal demographic. “Most guys released from prison want a car, job, and place. In reality, once you have those things, it’s not enough. You’ve got to find purpose to feel complete,” Orcutt said.

Orcutt will stand victoriously on the Commencement 2024 stage with his Associate of General Studies summa cum laude on May 10, yet he’s in his prime at TMCC. He is also continuing his education in the Bachelor of Applied Science program in Career and Technical Education Leadership (CTEL).

While a champion of justice-related incidents, displaced homemakers, and special populations, his talents also granted him a shot at a firsthand classroom setting. At the beginning of the Spring Semester, he became an instructor in Adult Basic Education and instantly adored his students. Teaching English Language Learners courses has been a remarkable gift for him, deepening his loyalty to the academic system. It’s a small niche where TMCC resides, and his pupils’ character and similarities impressed him.

“One of my students from Afghanistan who speaks Farsi was one of the last people out at the end of the airlift withdrawal in 2021. Her life story is no different than my other student from El Salvador, who fled gangs and violence. Or the five from Haiti. It saved their lives coming here,” Orcutt said.

“It’s more than teaching. It’s profound. Dean Amy Williams said, ‘By the end of your semester, you’ll love these students.’ I’m invested in their lives now,” Orcutt continued.

Amy Williams, Dean of Business, Dr. Kofi Poku, Marketing Professor, and Fred Lokken, Political Science Department Chair, played a tremendous part in his ascension to a prosperous college journey and newly acquired career at TMCC. You heard right: Orcutt is the new Educational Partnership Programs Coordinator and couldn’t be happier.

“On April 22, I started as the full-time Educational Partnership Programs Coordinator. I run the programs administering Justice Involved Vocational Education (JIVE), Displaced Homemakers, SNAP Employment and Training (SNAP E&T), and I assist with Perkins Student Support. It’s a dream come true,” Orcutt said.

Orcutt expressed gratitude for those who stood stoically beside him throughout his deliverance from wrongdoing and lost time to the sanctity of supportive mentors and education’s warm embrace. He can’t forget the day Dean Williams contacted him on the phone, instilling a welcoming and calming atmosphere. Poku has also been a saint, consistently calling and chatting with him at 10 p.m. outside regular school hours, empowering all student outcomes, and considering him a best friend. Last but not least, Lokken, despite being the chair of a department in charge of hundreds of staff, still finds time for his students, taking an affinity to Orcutt that uplifted him.

“TMCC is an organization of people who care from the top down. I had a cynical idea this was a diploma mill. It’s not. It’s a sincere higher education experience. It does much for Northern Nevada and will continue to,” Orcutt continued.

Orcutt has elevated himself to a leader, a pillar of reassuring strength, and an honest force for student success, no matter their circumstances. With respect and admiration cutting both ways for those who changed his life and whom he’s impacted, a meaningful destiny awaits him at TMCC, where he can create lasting relationships with community patrons and colleagues who believe nobody is beyond hope if there’s an invincible desire to learn.

Orcutt has a message for adults fearful of returning to higher education:

“Don’t let imposter syndrome stop you from enrolling. Avoid the mentality you don’t belong. It’s isn’t true. You’re not irredeemable. It seems like hopeless odds, but they are surmountable. Sometimes, the world stops you from going to school. You’ve got to be hungry. A degree guarantees accomplishment and tells employers you’re willing to put your nose to the grindstone.”

For more information about the Class of 2024, please visit the Commencement website.