'Ripple effect' spreads campuswide message of respect, creativity
"I absolutely love this school!" she said during a "Live With Rae" morning presentation in the Klump Academic Center, coolly and confidently striding the auditorium stage in an animated and unabashed Q&A.
That session was preceded by a tour and followed by a demonstration in the welding lab, where Ripple put her renowned stamp on a student project – aptly mirroring her enthusiasm for motorcycles – that will be installed outside the Lycoming Engines Metal Trades Center for public display.
Helping observe Women's History Month while giving students a candid dose of philosophy as they head for Spring Break, Ripple began the day by recounting her escape from a "world full of darkness" – and acknowledging that even the most despairing moments were crucial to her personal history.
"Repeat after me," she implored the crowd. "Failures are not failures. They are merely redirections that lead you to other chapters of your life."
That "Trust the process" mantra, aided by faith and determination, lifted her out of the muck that easily could have defined and derailed her. She broke a cycle of drug-addicted parents, mental health struggles, couch-surfing homelessness and abuse to create both the life she wanted and the art that helps gives it purpose.
Ripple has appeared on “Metal Shop Masters” (Netflix) and “Monster Garage” (Discovery Channel), has been published in Welder magazine, launched a "Free Hug Campaign" and other charitable enterprises, and attracts top dollar for her one-of-a-kind creations from far beyond her Texas roots.
She's also a social media superstar who nonetheless knows that the internet's memory is long: "Use it to your benefit, use it in positive ways to market yourself," she cautioned students, "but think before you post. If you feel something funny in your diaphragm, just don't do it."
Ripple is constantly evolving, moving from baking cakes ... to painting on sheet metal ... to working with tin snips and rivets. She's been a firefighter and a tow-truck operator, she's certified in underwater welding, has fabricated a larger-than-life statue of a supermarket chain's mascot, and believes she may want to try stained glass.
"Some people collect stamps," she said. "I like to collect skills."
"I want people to realize that they're capable of anything and everything. It doesn't matter how hard it is or how heavy it is," she added. "If I can do it, anyone can do it."
Whatever bad-girl swagger carries her through the day, whatever scars resurface when she imagines herself as a 14-year-old again, they don't quash her goodhearted "fight to keep the light shining."
Alluding to both her own adolescent trauma and society's broader sexualization of women, she beseeched the young men in her audience to be vigilantly reverent: "Protect all your women. Treat them with respect ... like you would your mother, your sister ... like you would any other female in your family."
It was a message that ultimately transcended categorization, fitting for her first public speaking engagement since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Whatever you put into the universe, the universe gives back," she said. "You don't know what people are going through, so be kind. The smallest gesture can go a million miles."
(Watch PCToday for more on Ripple's work with Penn College students)
– Photos by Larry D. Kauffman, digital publishing specialist/photographer (unless otherwise noted)
Kindred souls start their milestone day with smiles, as Ripple sees her name at the top of the week's Stall Wall.
Sculptor and retired welding instructor Michael K. Patterson, later approvingly called "the OG of scrap metal" by Ripple, leads a tour of the "Student Bodies" that line the campus mall. Patterson worked with scores of students to create the abstract parade, among the artwork commissioned for the college's centennial in 2014.
Graver (with mic) introduces Ripple, whom she met in September while admiring one of her pieces at FABTECH. "I saw this gorgeous set of wings and thought, 'This woman is amazing!'" Graver said, adding that Ripple was "totally into it" when she invited her to visit Penn College.
Entertaining question after question from students (including some from regional high schools in the college's dual enrollment program), Ripple tirelessly motivated her audience. "Build the life you want to live on the weekends," she told them. "Be creative in your own way, and don't be afraid to make mistakes. It's all about the journey."
Still nagged by self-doubt from repeatedly being told she'd never make it, this music-lover sings a different tune for today's youth: "You're in the perfect generation to be anything you want to be."
The motorcycle, fabricated outside of class by members of the college’s American Welding Society student chapter, awaits Ripple’s decorative touch.
Outlining her design on the motorcycle’s “wheel”
"Process" gives light to Ripple's creativity.
Attention to detail is essential to Ripple.
Ripple's artistry shapes a masterwork.
The artist inspects her work.
With Ripple's work complete, the project goes back to students for polishing and other finishing touches. (Photo by Thomas F. Speicher, writer/video producer)