Winter Commencement Lives Up to Its Name
A column published in The New York Times on January 23 began, "All college commencements are happy, but community college commencements are the happiest of all. Many of the graduates are the first in their extended family to have earned degrees. When their name is read, big cheering sections erupt with horns and roars from the stands."
The author - David Brooks - has never attended a commencement ceremony at Northampton Community College, but he described them well.
On Sunday, January 25, more than 2000 proud parents, spouses, children and friends raised the roof as students who completed associate degrees, certificates and specialized diplomas in August or December crossed the stage to shake the hand of NCC president Mark Erickson. "It's your day," Erickson had told the graduates and their loved ones earlier. "Feel free to make a little noise."
Thirteen years earlier Melinda Stumpf had been part of NCC's graduating class. On Sunday she was the commencement speaker. Raised in what she described as a "tough environment," where her family struggled to make enough money to cover the rent and groceries, Stumpf said she knew from the age of 10 that she wanted "something more."
Despite setbacks such as having an elderly neighbor tell her she was never going to own anything nice and being passed over for a scholarship to an expensive college in favor of someone whose family had influence, she persevered, earning an associate degree from Northampton, a bachelor's degree from Muhlenberg, and an MBA from St. Joseph's University. She is now the regional affairs director for PPL, a recipient of Skills USA's "Leadership by Example" award, a wife and a mother. She bought her elderly neighbor's house as an investment property, and she describes NCC as "the best school I attended."
Stumpf told the members of NCC's Class of 2015 to set goals for themselves. "Life will always throw you some curves, but it is up to you to determine the outcome." In encouraging the graduates to "dream big," she assured them,"You can do whatever you put your mind to."
Speaking on behalf of the faculty, Professor of Counseling Elba Carides offered similar advice. She also gave the graduates a homework assignment, instructing them to capitalize on their strengths, to keep learning, and to concentrate on areas where they can make a difference. "Your degree at NCC gave you the skills you need," she said. "You are ready!"
The chair of Northampton's Board of Trustees, Robert Fehnel, described Commencement as a "shared victory" for the graduates, for their families, and for the College.
The victory was sweet. Between the snowstorm that had postponed the ceremony by a day - and the snowstorms forecast for the following week - the graduates, their families and the College celebrated the victory together.