WEST WINDSOR – It was an outdoor-indoor graduation during Mercer County Community College’s (MCCC) 52nd Annual Commencement Ceremony, with a sudden thundershower forcing festivities from the West Windsor Quad to the Mercer gymnasium. But a little rain was not going to put a damper on a special day for 974 graduates.
“I want to borrow a phrase a mother said to me as we were walking over here,” said MCCC President Dr. Jianping Wang, after graduates and their guests reassembled in the gym. “She told me: ‘This doesn’t matter. It’s a sunshine day, because my daughter is graduating.’”
Total, the 974 graduates earned 1,022 degrees and certificates, with more than 250 graduating with honors. Prior to the commencement ceremony, more than 100 graduates were recognized during the annual Honors Convocation for outstanding academic achievement, with many receiving scholarships to continue their education.
Prior to the rain interrupting the ceremony, Wang welcomed the graduates, praising them for their hard work and determination.
“Class of 2019, as we celebrate your graduation, we want you to know that you make us all so very proud of your achievement and so very grateful that we are able to be part of your journey,” Wang said. “Today is the day that makes all the hard work worthwhile.”
“Today we celebrate the accomplishments of each of our graduates. You make us hopeful,” said Mark Matzen, chair of the MCCC Board of Trustees. “Keep learning, don’t be afraid to take risks and confront challenges, and most of all, continue to question authority and the status quo.”
Among those addressing the graduates was Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes, who congratulated the graduates on their accomplishment, but said that what they have learned is only the beginning – and that they were well prepared for what lies ahead.
“Regardless of the path you choose from this point on, as MCCC graduates, all of you now share two precious gifts,” Hughes said. “Mercer instills in all of its students the courage to ask difficult questions, and the confidence to solve problems effectively through critical thinking.”
In delivering his keynote address to graduates, Mercer County Undersheriff Pedro Medina a Mercer County Community College alumnus, recounted his own life journey: Moving to the U.S. at the age of 12, graduating from Trenton Central High School, attending Mercer, service in the Marine Corps, earning his bachelor’s degree from Trenton State College, and rising through the ranks with the Trenton Police Department.
And even though his address to graduates was interrupted by the weather, he picked up where he left off when ceremonies resumed in the gym to an enthusiastic audience.
“As an alumnus of this great college, I sat there where you are seated many years ago,” Medina said. “What will you see the next ten, twenty, maybe fifty years ahead? I cannot imagine. You are ready and well prepared by this great college.”
Dr. Ron Smith, a Biology professor at Mercer, was named the recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award, an award given to a faculty member annually by peers in recognition of teaching excellence. In accepting the award, Smith noted that the fact that faculty, staff, friends, family, and supporters made the move across campus in drenching conditions, all in support of the graduates, proved Mercer is a special place.
“When you look around, and you realize, in all this chaos, all these people stayed around to support you guys,” Smith said. “We are proud of where you’ve come, and we look forward to where you go in the future.”
Selected as the student speaker representing the Class of 2019 was Samantha Costa, a Hamilton West graduate who said she finally found her path when she enrolled at Mercer. She also noted that through good weather or bad, the day was for the MCCC Class of 2019.
“It may be raining outside, but it’s not going to rain on our parade,” Costa said. “Today is for celebrating.”
Costa said she initially attended a four-year university to pursue a career in teaching, but decided it was not for her. Then she attended cosmetology school, and after a few years in the workforce, made the decision to focus her career in a different direction. And at Mercer, she said, she found her calling.
“I couldn’t stop thinking that maybe there was more out there for me,” Costa said. “I can honestly say Mercer County Community College changed my life. This institution and the people that make it so special have changed me for the better.”
Costa, a Paralegal Studies major, has already landed a job in the Office of the Public Guardian, a state office that safeguards the financial interests of elderly citizens. She will continue her education at Fairleigh Dickinson University through the Mercer on-campus program this summer, with the ultimate goal of attending law school.
“I am filled with joy and gratitude for everyone here at Mercer that have made my dreams come true,” Costa said. “Congratulations, Class of 2019. This is our day to celebrate.”