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"Let Your Light Shine Brightly," Says JKC Provost Monica Weaver at Kerney Awards Night Ceremony


Trenton, NJ - It was an evening filled with success stories - of students committed to their education and getting the job done to complete a degree or certificate program, often in the face of major obstacles. Mercer County Community College's James Kerney Campus celebrated the achievements of close to 150 students at a spirited event on May 8 that brought graduates together with MCCC administrators, fellow students, family and friends at Patriot's Theater in the Trenton War Memorial.

According to JKC Provost and Dean Monica Weaver, 45 students who started or spent most of their time at the Trenton campus have earned their associate degrees, 27 are graduating from Mercer's Career Training Institute, 15 have earned certificates from the English Language Institute, and 57 are earning their GED high school equivalency, 19 of them from HomeFront, a shelter for the homeless of Mercer County that partners with MCCC.

Said MCCC President Patricia C. Donohue, "You have performed and achieved - maybe more than you thought you could. We will always be here for you as you seek more challenges. Count on us as your support system."

Adding his voice to the chorus of well-wishers was Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, who said, "It's one of the most important events for the city and the county. You have reached what you came here to do and have not stopped trying, even though life sometimes gets in the way. You should be proud." MCCC Communication Professor Alvyn Haywood served as Master of Ceremonies.

Special guest speaker was Trenton businessman and community volunteer Tracey Syphax. Owner of Capitol City Contracting, which he established in 1995, Syphax drew on his powerful personal journey. "Mine is an unlikely success story," he said. An ex-offender, Syphax recalls that people gave him little chance for success, but he proved them wrong. "I started out with one small truck and did small jobs. But then I got more clients and I kept my eye on the prize. I turned my roofing company into a contracting company."

Syphax encouraged students to explore possibilities and embrace life's journey. "A world of unlimited opportunities awaits you. Seize them and be excited about the future." He also advised graduates to give back to their community. "Mentor a child. As the tide rises, all boats rise."

Representing the degree graduates was Kalyse Beckett, who earns her associate degree in Nursing (and completed a second degree in Liberal Arts, majoring in Sociology, in December 2011). A single mother of a five-year-old son, she first focused on nursing for its employment potential. She has grown to love the field, due in part, she said, to her inspiring instructors. While her multiple roles as student and mother proved diffciult, she said, "Failure was not an option." Taking four years to complete her program, she emphasized that her hard work and dedication have paid off. She has also made many friends among her peers, a group she believes will remain close as these new nurses venture into the nursing field.

Career Training Institute grad Tammy Henigan is proud of earning her certificate in PC Applications. Laid off from her job, she knew she needed to bolster her skills and jumped at the chance when she was referred to the CTI through the Mercer County One-Stop Center. Acknowledging she could only type a little bit at that time, her instructor pushed students "to keep typing until those fingers know where to do," she recalled. Also helpful were job search seminars that advised students about resume writing, and interview skills. Henigan now works for a large medical group in Princeton.

Representing the graduates of the English Language Institute was Alejandro Lazaro, originally from Guatemala. An adult student, Lazaro said, "It's never too late to seek out opportunities in life. That's one of the things that I really like about America. Everyone has a chance."

Carmen Hayes spoke on behalf of the GED graduates. Having had her four children at a young age, she noted that she never had the chance to finish high school - until now. "Education was not a priority, but I made sure it was for my children," proudly noting that all four completed high school and college. "When I decided to go back, it was to motivate my grandchildren," Hayes said. "It's never too late to achieve." She said she plans to continue her education with the goal of becoming a pharmacy technician.

MCCC Foundation Board member Kristi Sells, an invited special guest, added a celebratory note as she proclaimed, "I am blessed and excited to be here. I am a former high school English teacher and now I am an employer, so I know how important education is." She held up a brick that is part of the Alumni Association's "Paving the Way to Excellence" program and explained that the Foundation is donating funds for the engraving of bricks as a lasting tribute to the accomplishments of GED graduates. "Your name will forever be on Mercer's campus," Sells said.

Two JKC employees were selected by students for special service awards: JKC Counselor Terrence Carter, who has helped students organize numerous special events in the past year, and Christine Reed, who works in the Accounting Office at JKC. "Students' lives are changed because of your presence," Dean Weaver said.

Following graduates' acceptance of their certificates of achievement, Provost Weaver concluded the ceremony with stirring words that were met with cheers and applause. "Education is the most powerful weapon you have to change the world. Let your light shine brightly."

JKC Provost Monica Weaver welcomed all. "This is both a night for the graduates and for all those who have provided the support for them to succeed."

For more photos, visit MCCC's Facebook photo album here.

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From left, Foundation Board members Tom Kull and Kristie Sells, student Tashanique Purcell, recipient of the Charles Keith Sherman Memorial Scholarship MCCC President Dr. Patricia C. Donohue, and VP for College Advancement Dr. Mellissia Zanjani.

Student Alicea Eskeitz accepts the Arthur J. Holland Scholarship from Dr. Mellissia Zanjani, vice president for college advancement. Also pictured are Foundation Board member Kristie Sells, left, and MCCC President Patricia Donohue, third from left.
Alejandro Lazaro represented the 15 graduates
of MCCC's English Language Insitute.

Nursing student Kalyse Beckett spoke on
behalf of the 45 associate degree graduates.
Jermaine McKinley, center, celebrates the moment as he accepts the Metropolitan Trenton African American Chamber of Commerce Scholarship. Pictured with McKinley, from left, are Foundation Board members Tom Kull, Kristie Sells, MTAACC President John Harmon, guest speaker Tracrey Syphax, MCCC President Patricia Donohue and MCCC VP Mellissia Zanjani.

Tammy Henigan spoke for the 27 students who
earned certificates through MCCC's Career Training Institute.