Trenton, N.J. – With handshakes, hugs and occasional tears, the Trenton Campus celebrated the achievements of students who completed a program of study at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) in 2014-15. This year marked the Trenton Campus’s 27th annual Celebration of Academic Achievement, held May 5 at the Trenton War Memorial.
The college recognized 176 students who have made the Trenton campus their place of learning. Among the honorees were 61 associate degree students, 45 High School Equivalency (HSE) students, 23 English Language Institute (ELI) students, 12 Career Training Institute (CTI) students, and 35 students who participated in New Jersey Youth Corps.
“These individuals have worked so very hard. They have earned the right to chart their destiny,” said Trenton Campus Provost Monica Weaver as she addressed the Washington Ballroom crowd. She applauded the many families in attendance who helped make their students’ success possible.
Weaver noted the Trenton Campus’s tremendous impact on the lives of city residents. The campus serves over 3,000 students annually, along with 1,500 teens through Youth College programs.
State Assemblywoman Elizabeth Muoio, of the 15th Legislative District, noted the strong government support for MCCC and a vibrant campus in Trenton. “You come from different backgrounds having completed different levels on your academic journey. But you are united in setting goals for yourself and in achieving them. I am certain that if you continue to dedicate yourselves, this is only the first of many successes you have in store. You represent what’s best about Mercer County.”
Dr. Patricia C. Donohue, who retires in June after eight years as MCCC president, had advice for the graduates. “This evening is part of a journey. Celebrate tonight and tomorrow get right back to achieving your goals.” She encouraged students to continue to seek out Mercer for lifelong education.
Also addressing the students and their families were Mercer County Freeholder Sam Frisby, Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson, Trustee Robert DiFalco, Vice President for Academic Affairs Eun-Woo Chang, and Vice President for College Advancement Ed Gwazda, who presented 18 scholarships on behalf of the MCCC Foundation.
Keynote speaker was Craig Boykin, of Montgomery, Alabama, who overcame significant obstacles on his way to becoming a nationally recognized author, speaker and Ph.D. candidate. After numerous setbacks, Boykin earned his GED and then enrolled in college at the age of 23. Working with a tutor, he more than caught up, graduating with his bachelor's degree in three years. He went on to earn two master’s degrees and is currently working on his doctorate.
“The real secret to success is how badly you want it,” Boykin told an appreciative audience. “The difference between successful people and those who are not is the ability to move on when times get tough. Take control of your life and write your own story.”
Each of the six student speakers spoke of personal trials but noted that their desire to forge ahead with their education was stronger than their obstacles. Returning adult student Marsha Collins, who represented associate degree graduates, began taking classes at Mercer fresh out of high school in 1984, but then got sidetracked with other responsibilities.
“With only a few years left before retirement, I realized that the thing I wanted to do for myself was to get my degree. It has taken me 31 years and three different majors to finally accomplish my goal – to graduate from Mercer. I have had detours that almost derailed me, but because of people who pushed me to persevere, I am standing here today.” Collins will transfer to Thomas Edison State College in the fall to complete her bachelor’s degree.
Originally from Jamaica, Rosemarie Beckford-Hay spoke on behalf of students from the Career Training Institute, which provides short-term training as Culinary Technicians and Administrative Support professionals. A Nutrition Department employee at Princeton Healthcare, she has worked in the culinary field for 25 years, but decided to seek out formal training at Mercer for career advancement. Noting the comprehensive curriculum taught by Chef Jorge Maldonado and Chef Matt McElmol,
Beckford-Hay recalled her culinary math class as especially challenging, but her hard work paid off. “Going to school and working full-time was a struggle and a challenge. I cried, I prayed. But I accomplished what I set out to do." She stresssed to students, "Don’t give up on your dreams.”
Silma Montepeque represented students from the English Language Institute. Originally from Guatemala, she came to the United States knowing almost no English. "
Before this program, the only word I knew in English was ‘hello’ and now I am able to give this speech in English to all of you. I am able to understand the language and express myself. Everything is possible if we have belief in ourselves and work hard to reach our goals,” she said.
Freddy Tay, who represented HSE grads, earned his HSE after just four months of classes and is currently in his second semester of college at MCCC. He recalled his upbringing in Guatemala, where he was forced to leave school after sixth grade to work. “But I believe that school is important and I never gave up nor will I in the future,” he said, adding that difficult times are part of a great life story. “I encourage you to be the role model in your families,” he told his classmates.
Brenda Garcia, who spoke on behalf of seven students from HomeFront who earned their HSE, said, “You encouraged us to keep on pursuing our education and pushed us to absorb learning. And that can open up a lot of doors. It’s up to all of us to make the most of these opportunities.” Garcia is currently taking classes at MCCC.
Last to speak was Lisandra Concepcion, who represented Youth Corps, a program for 16-to-25-year-olds seeking to complete their high school education, gain community service experience, and assess their skills and talents as they map a plan for the future.
Concepcion knew it was time to earn her high school diploma in order to better provide for her family. “My husband is very supportive and I wanted to be a role model for my girls. Today here I stand with my High School Equivalency. And now I am attending college at Mercer when I didn’t think college was possible. I am very grateful for the opportunities I got through Youth Corps. It was one of the best decisions I have made in my life.”
Three security officers were singled out for special awards: Ed Holloway, Donald Bray and Hope Jarvis. Professor Alvyn Haywood and student Kevin Parham were given awards for volunteerism. "Whatever the event, whatever the need, they are there and ready to help," Provost Weaver said.