A Shared Victory
786 stories filled Northampton Community College's Spartan Center on May 25, 2017. Each was unique, yet in one way they all had something in common: the students behind the stories overcame obstacles and worked hard to achieve their dream of a college education. For many students, the dream attained at NCC's Spring Commencement Ceremony was not achieved alone.
"You know better than anyone else what this day represents," Robert R. Fehnel '75, Chair of Northampton Community College's Board of Trustees, told the soon to be alumni. "For many of you, your family provided support, so this is a shared victory."
Dr. Carolyn Bortz, vice president for academic affairs, recognized the "time, talents, and energy" it took students to reach their goals, while praising their families whose support, encouragement and sacrifice made it possible. She also went on to mention the significant contributions faculty and staff make in preparing students to reach milestones like commencement.
Dr. Mark Erickson, NCC president, told the parents in the audience that this was their day, too, because of the support they had shown their children throughout the years. He then went on to share a handful of the remarkable 786 stories that filled the room that evening, including:
· Veteran Andrew Chomko did four tours of duty with the Army, twice in Iraq and twice in Afghanistan as a paratrooper. He graduates with a funeral service degree and will return home to work for his family business.
· Ryan Carsey, psychology major, was born with optic nerve hypoplasia, a condition caused by underdevelopment of the optic nerve. He can only see the outlines of people and objects and some colors. That didn't stop Ryan from attending virtually every campus event but also becoming a member of NCC's cross country team. His goal is to become a mobility expert, helping people with disabilities navigate the world better.
· Two students overcame near-death accidents to walk across the stage and receive their diplomas. Brianna Smeltz, criminal justice major, was so severely injured in a motorcycle accident her first semester at NCC that she spent a month in the hospital and was told she would never walk again. Sean Kempf was struck by a car one night as he walked home from work, suffering serious injuries including broken vertebrae in his neck. Their journeys have not been easy but both persevered.
· Natalia Castillo, biological science major and first generation college student, overcame many obstacles to be at NCC, including dyslexia and being badly bullied in high school and middle school. She was nervous about attending college, but thrived once she got here, making many new friends, even elected as vice president of the Student Senate. She'll continue her education at East Stroudsburg University.
Dr. Joseph J. Roy, superintendent of the sixth largest school district in Pennsylvania, the Bethlehem Area School District (BASD), gave the commencement address. Dr. Roy was recently named 2017 Superintendent of the Year for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He received his undergraduate degree from Franklin and Marshall College, his master's degree from Bucknell University, and his doctoral degree from Lehigh University.
"It's a true honor to be speaking at the best community college in the country," Roy said. He went on to share a message of unity with the students who are responsible for shaping the country's future.
"NCC is a college of the community, it draws its strengths from diversity. The meaning of the word 'we' makes us better and stronger when 'we' refers to all the diverse people who make up this wonderful country. You will inherit the challenge of strengthening the 'we' in 'we the people.'" Roy stated.
He shared a recipe for success to graduates that contained two ingredients: confidence and humility.
"You are a graduate because you have expertise and skills in your field. You should be confident in those skills. Walk with your head held high. You have a degree from the best community college," Roy encouraged. "Yet humility balances confidence. Have confidence in what you've already learned, but know that you still have so much more to learn from others."
The 786 students, ranging in age from 18-69, including twenty who had achieved a perfect 4.0 GPA, were then awarded their associate degrees, diplomas, and certificates.
Angelo Fattore '14 gave a welcoming talk to the new alumni, encouraging them to come back and visit, share accomplishments, attend alumni events, and share advice with students. "When you leave here today, you are still a Spartan," he said.
The event concluded with cheers, smiles and a few happy tears. Students were ready to set out on a new course, one that Dr. Beatriz Villar-Fernandez, associate professor of biology and the faculty speaker, hoped that they would continue learning and searching on. "Love what you do as much as you can and don't be afraid of failing or getting lost sometimes," she encouraged them.