West Windsor, N.J. – Members of the Mercer County Community College (MCCC) Class of 2015 came out in large numbers, along with family and friends, to celebrate success at Commencement ceremonies on May 21. This year, MCCC graduated 944 men and women who earned a total 1,013 degrees and certificates. Serving as mistress of ceremonies was MCCC President Patricia C. Donohue, who began her comments by noting that Mercer has awarded 38,284 degrees and certificates over the past 48 years.
“For many of you, this is the first big step in the bigger journey of life," Dr. Donohue said. "What you have achieved today sets you apart from many of your peers, as you have taken aim at a goal and through hard work and determination you have turned a dream into reality.”
Dr. Donohue noted the import of the learning that has gone on outside the classroom. “A college experience is more than what you learn in the classroom. It is a time for personal growth. I have had the privilege of seeing you grow – as students, as individuals, as leaders.”
She cited the many ways that MCCC students have served the local community this past year, with a total of $6,000 raised for community organizations including Anchor House, the HomeFront Family Preservation Center, the American Cancer Society, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Rescue Mission of Trenton, Wounded Warriors, the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, and the First Book literacy project. Now in its second year, the Penny Wars project involved 20 student organizations and raised more than $1,300 – in pennies! – for Alex’s Lemonade Stand.
As Dr. Donohue herself prepares to retire on June 30, she reminded students to be proud of their Mercer roots. “Let us continue to be a part of your journey in life. You will forever be a part of the MCCC family,” she said.
Also extending his congratulations during the ceremony was Board Chair Mark Matzen. “Your families and supporters have bet on you heavily,” he told the graduates. “Now you need to ensure them that the bet was a good one. Nothing is final about graduation.” Matzen paid special tribute to President Donohue for her eight years of leadership at the college.
County Executive Brian Hughes also encouraged the grads to reach higher. “As you move on, the tools you have gathered will serve you well in life. I hope you will always believe in yourselves and strive to exceed expectations in everything you do.”
Guest speaker for Commencement was former New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt, who currently serves as chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. As he offered his good wishes, Holt advised students to use fact-based evidence to make life’s most important decisions.
“Science is applicable in our daily lives. It guides us to separate sense from nonsense. Continue to look for evidence that points to answers that may surprise you and confound your expectations. You are in control of your education. You can ask the questions and find the answers,” Holt said.
One of the evening’s highlights was the carefully guarded announcement of the winner of the Distinguished Teaching Award, which is based on nominations from students. This year’s honoree was Professor of Physics Jingrong Huang. Reading comments from Dr. Huang's students, President Donohue described her as “very enthusiastic in her teaching and an expert in her discipline,” as a professor “who creates an excellent environment for learning,” and as “friendly, supportive and demanding all at once.”
In accepting the award, Huang, who serves as co-advisor for the MCCC chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society, noted that she wished to share the honor with many at the college, including her colleagues and students.
She advised students to find the superhero within. “There is a superhero in each and every one of us. Do one thing every day that scares you. It may require you to go outside your comfort zone, but continue to push the frontier and break the barriers you may have set for yourself. Let the superhero inside you loose to help you achieve your dreams.”
Two grads represented the Class of 2015 on the dais as this year's student speakers. The first was Liberal Arts major and American Honors grad James Gazawie, who will attend Rutgers University in the fall, double majoring in economics and philosophy. Gazawie quoted Albert Einstein as he reflected on his own circuitous path to college. “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new,” Gazawie said.
Expelled from high school in ninth grade, Gazawie got back on track through a program known as Vision Quest. After earning his GED, he worked as a barber and then at a supermarket as he contemplated his future.
“Eventually that led me to Mercer. I was apprehensive, as I had had little formal education. And now I stand before you with a near perfect GPA, as a member of Psi Beta [the psychology honor society], and as a member of the Philosophy Club. I worked hard and I applied myself. But I did not do it alone,” Gazawie said, recalling the advice of Professor of Communications Alvyn Haywood and emphasizing that his success was due in part to the support of family, friends, and the many resources available at Mercer.
“At Mercer, there are faculty and staff who want to help, who go above and beyond as teachers and advisors,” he said.
Liberal Arts/Education major Gina Migliaccio, who served as president of the Student Government Association this year, noted the diverse makeup of the graduating class – those who came to the college fresh out of high school, those who returned to school as adults, and the veterans who are getting their chance at education after serving their country. She spoke warmly of the family environment at Mercer and thanked everyone who has helped graduates succeeed. “The lessons and experiences we have had here won’t disappear. We have a bond that connects us. Once a Viking, always a Viking. And, if you lose your way, you can always return.”
The ceremony concluded with the recognition of students graduating with honors by Vice President for Academic Affairs Eun-Woo Chang and the awarding of diplomas by Dr. Chang and other college officials. This year, the college awarded 383 A.S. degrees, 317 A.A.S. degrees, 201 A.A. degrees, 20 A.F.A. degrees; and 92 Certificates of Proficiency.
See additional Commencement photos on Facebook here and here.
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