MCCC grants degrees to its share of stars

Friday, May 25, 2007

BY CATHARINA EVANS

Special to the Times

WEST WINDSOR -- It's been five years since Albert Giple left Liberia, the war-torn country of his birth, to chase his dreams of higher education.

Now, after two years of taking classes while working full-time, Giple has earned an associate's degree from Mercer County Community College in business administration and is on his way to a bachelor's degree through Rutgers University.

Giple plans to attain a public accountant certification and a career in the finance -- goals that will bring him worlds away from where he began, in an African nation plagued by unrelenting civil war.

"My country has seen 14 years of civil crisis," said Giple, who came to America with his immediate family. "My education was constantly being interrupted. The promise of education is what brought me here."

While working full-time at Allies Inc., an institute that works with disabled individuals, Giple maintained a 3.75 GPA, was a participant in MCCC's "Dream" mentorship and college ambassador program, and was instrumental in forming "Life," a nonprofit organization dedicated to nurturing high school students.

For all his unique qualities, Giple has more in common with his classmates than one may think. Many of his peers who graduated in MCCC's commencement ceremony yesterday share his extraordinary drive for personal growth and compassion.

Thomas Bonacci, a truck mechanic for 30 years, entered MCCC's nursing program after years of caring for his handicapped son and the illness and death of a parent. Bonacci, who worked full-time in Newark and raised a family while attending MCCC, will begin work as a registered nurse in a Trenton hospital after passing his license exam.

"The opportunity to provide care to people is very gratifying," said Bonacci, who completed an internship in an intensive care unit last summer. "I took care of a lot of people who weren't sure they were going to make it. The thanks I got back from them was worth it."

Bonacci stressed the importance of remembering that MCCC is full of "working people, single mothers -- who do so well." In addition to juggling full-time jobs and family, there are also individuals like young Hodgkins lymphoma survivor Warren Ross Schaeffer, who attained his degree and dean's list status while enduring chemotherapy treatment. Schaeffer was diagnosed with the most aggressive stage of the cancer while attending MCCC.

"It was my willpower that kept me going. Mercer Community College was my sanity," said Schaeffer, who is headed to Rider University for a bachelor's degree in elementary education. "I knew at 9 years old I wanted to be a teacher. Nothing was going to stop me from doing what I wanted."

Schaeffer was selected as one of two 2007 Phi Theta Kappa "All Stars" and honored by the NJ Council of County Colleges.

MCCC graduated 925 students last night at its West Windsor campus, more than a third of whom will continue their education at four-year institutions.

James Kelly, the coordinator of the college's music program, received the annual "Distinguished Teaching Award," which is kept secret until commencement day.

Mary Jane Harris, who completed the college's new honors program, spoke on behalf of the student population. A member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve and a pilot with Continental Express, she plans to attend medical school.


2007  The Times of Trenton

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