West Windsor, N.J. – Rainy skies did not diminish the shared excitement – or the words of congratulations and encouragement – for the close to 900 graduates of Mercer County Community College (MCCC) as the Class of 2014 celebrated Commencement ceremonies on May 22. Serving as mistress of ceremonies was MCCC President Patricia C. Donohue, who began her comments by noting that Mercer has awarded 37,271 degrees and certificates over the past 47 years.
“Some of you will go on to four-year colleges, some to new careers. Your new knowledge will make a difference, not only in your life but in the lives of others. Today we recognize that Commencement is a beginning, and we know that Mercer empowers our graduates to seek new beginnings and direction for their lives,” Donohue said.
She congratulated students for making a difference in their community. “Our graduates raised funds and contributed nearly $7,000 to community organizations that help others.” Among this year’s recipient organizations were Home Front, the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Mercer Street Friends, United Way of Greater Mercer County, the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen and Alex’s Lemonade Stand.
Also extending their congratulations during the ceremony were Dr. Gwendolyn Harris, Board of Trustees Chair, and Brian Hughes, County Executive.
Commencement speaker was Maurice Coleman, a graduate of Trenton Central High School, whose mother attended MCCC and went on to an esteemed 42-year career as a teacher in the Trenton School System. Coleman is currently a Senior Vice President for the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Commercial Real Estate Group focused on community development banking.
As he offered his good wishes, Coleman advised graduates to be resilient. “I want you to live your dreams. Mercer has given you the academic skills for success. It’s your attitude, your vision and your resilience that will make the difference. Falling down is a natural part of life but life doesn’t really begin until you get back up,” he said. “The road to success is long, but you must keep reaching. I know you have excellence in you.”
Dr. Donald Generals, Vice President for Academic Affairs, introduced close to 100 graduates who earned academic honors and were recognized at the Honors Convocation prior to Commencement. Among this group of high-achievers was Commencement's Student Speaker Benedict Petraitis, a member of the Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society and recipient of the 2014 Ronald J. Kopcho Memorial Scholarship for Excellence in the study of psychology. Petraitis was one of 16 veterans who graduated this year.
In his remarks, Petraitis congratulated his classmates, observing, “Mercer has been a journey of self-discovery for us all. As we prepare to move forward, it’s important to keep the network of family and friends that has helped us get to this point.” He recalled his own journey, one that led him to join the Air Force after high school instead of proceeding directly to college. After retiring from the military, he found himself at a crossroads at the age of 40, and ultimately chose Mercer as his starting point for college.
He recalled his fears of returning to school among younger, fresher minds and of not being able to keep up. But he got his first taste of success during a class in the summer of 2012, when his psychology professor, Dr. Karen Bearce, told him that the characteristics he perceived as weaknesses could actually be turned into strengths. “I got an ‘A’ in that class," he recalled proudly, adding that he found Mercer professors always willing to work with students who reached out for help.
Petraitis also shared words of wisdom he learned in the Air Force: integrity first, service to others before self, and excellence in all that you strive to do. “Explore and learn new skills. Give 100 percent," he said. "Have the courage to accept that you are not perfect, but never let anyone tell you you can’t do it.”
Petraitis earns his associate degree in Liberal Arts/Humanities with a concentration in Psychology and will continue for his bachelor’s degree through William Paterson University at Mercer. His goal is to work as a counselor for fellow veterans.
Another highlight of the ceremony was the carefully guarded announcement of Laura Sosa, Professor of Business Administration, as the recipient of the 2014 Distinguished Teaching Award. Reading comments from students who nominated her, Donohue said that Sosa was described as a professor who is “helpful both inside and outside the classroom...who focuses on the success of her students..who makes classes interactive and fun...who treats students like adults and expects nothing but the best from them.”
Sosa thanked students and faculty for the tremendous honor, noting that students “serve as an inspiration to us all.” She recalled her own career path in financial services and of pursuing an advanced degree as well as corporate training. Taking some time off when she became a mother, she reassessed her career direction and decided to go into teaching.
She noted that her academic preparation had given her options. “Education in its many forms gives us the opportunity to control our destiny. Education is power.”
Sosa, the granddaughter of Italian immigrants who worked in a factory, urged students to “never lose sight of the doors that will open if you make education a part of your life.”
She also encouraged graduates to focus on their journey in addition to their goals. “How you get there and what you learn along the way are even more important. Strive to make a difference in the world. Become a mentor, donate your time to a cause you believe in, perform acts of kindness. Reach out to others and your life will be filled with richness and happiness.”
See additional Commencenent photos on Facebook here.
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