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Grads Encouraged to Meet Challenges Head On at 46th Annual MCCC Commencement May 23


West Windsor, N.J. – “We are counting on you,” New Jersey Higher Education Secretary Rochelle Hendricks told graduates at Mercer County Community College’s 46th annual Commencement, held in the gymnasium on the West Windsor campus on May 23.

"Just as you have had role models, be a role model for others," she advised.

Relocated to the gymnasium for the first time in more than a decade due to inclement weather, students proved that a few raindrops could not diminish their sense of joy and accomplishment. Close to 1,100 students earned associate degrees and certificates.

MCCC President Patricia C. Donohue welcomed graduates and their guests. “It is with great pleasure that we honor a graduating class of 1,072 men and women. This brings the total number of degrees and certificates awarded by Mercer County Community College to more than 36,385 over the past 46 years,” she said.

“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,” Dr. Donohue continued.

She noted that this year’s class was marked by exceptional achievement.  MCCC’s student newspaper, The College VOICE, won 18 awards in the two-year college division, including first place for general excellence. The college’s student athletes scored in academics, with more than 20 students named to the Region 19 All-Academic Team, and more than 30 named to the Garden State Athletic Conference Academic Team. The women’s cross country team was named as a National Junior College Athletic Association All-Academic Team.

Dr. Donohue commended the volunteer spirit of these grads. Students raised $5,000 for community organizations including Home Front, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, and hosted food drives for United Way and the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. Horticulture students constructed a tribute garden in memory of Professor Emerita Mary Hayes, and Digital Media Arts students designed a comprehensive website for Anchor House in Trenton. The women’s cross country team hosted a 5K Run/Walk to benefit the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.

MCCC Board Chair Gwendolyn Harris introduced Education Secretary Hendricks. “Secretary Hendricks has demonstrated a lifelong commitment to education for everyone at all levels,” Dr. Harris said, noting that Hendricks started out as a teacher and is now the state’s first education secretary.

Sec. Hendricks had much advice to share with graduates.  “This is a very special place, where individuals with the desire to grow, to enhance their careers, or start new careers have the opportunity for education. You have also been prepared for leadership, which is as important as career readiness.  You have learned something about the world and about yourselves.”

She urged students to continue to strive.  “Set your own standard of excellence. Imagine greatness for yourselves and your community.  The world needs your talent, your time and your resources. We are counting on you to be the difference we all need to see in the world."

One of the evening’s highlights was the presentation of the Distinguished Teaching Award, a surprise selection each year that is based on nominations from students and faculty.  This year’s recipient was Ornamental Horticulture Program Coordinator Amy Ricco.

Introducing the awardee, Dr. Donohue read comments from professors and students who gave her high marks for her dynamic teaching style, compassion, and leadership on campus.

Describing her work at Mercer as her "dream job," Ricco addressed the appreciative crowd. “I have been given the opportunity to have a job that combines two things that I am passionate about – teaching and gardening.”

Ricco started her own college education at a community college and then transferred to Cornell University, where she earned her bachelor's degree in Plant Science. When she decided she wanted to teach, she stayed on at Cornell to earn her master's degree in Education.

She noted that her job at Mercer has been “one of the best things that ever happened to me.  I have had the pleasure of spending the last 15 years teaching, learning, being challenged, and most importantly helping my students achieve their goals.“

She thanked her colleagues for their mentoring and her husband, Dave, for his support, especially when she has worked evenings and on weekends and for the many times she has turned her kitchen table into a second office. 

Ricco concluded by thanking her students.  “Watching you succeed makes all of the hard work and sacrifice worth it.  I encourage you to not be afraid of all of the challenges life will throw your way in your pursuit of finding a career that you love.”

Student speaker Chynna Taylor took the microphone next. She noted that Mercer was the best choice for her financially, but proved to be her best choice for many reasons she could not have anticipated.

“I thought I would go to class, take the tests, and that would be that,” she explained to her classmates.  What Taylor found instead was “a serious and challenging institution that pushes students to their limits.”

Encouraged by her professors, she began to take honors level classes.  “At that point, everything took off,” recalled Taylor, who then joined the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society and got involved in extracurricular activities including a peer mentoring program.

Taylor encouraged fellow students to become engaged students, just as she learned to do at Mercer.  “I became more than a passive listener. I began to value the community I found at Mercer.  I learned the importance of connections and community.  These are the connections that will allow you to achieve your goals in your work and your community.”

Taylor, who graduates with an associate degree in Biology, plans to continue her education at a four-year college with a goal to be a wildlife biologist.  “I feel well-prepared going forward.  Mercer helped me see the potential in myself,” Taylor said.

Fine Arts grad Guadalupe Reyes
with her brother and mother.
Advertising/Graphic Design grad Erika Morillo will transfer to Moore College of Art to earn her bachelor's degree in Fine Arts.

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Grads savor the moment despite the weather!
President Patricia C. Donohue reflected on the academic accomplishments and community service of this year's graduates.
NJ Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Henricks encouraged students to follow their hearts, serve their communities and face challenges without fear.
Distinguished Teaching awardee Amy Ricco said that being hired to teach horticulture at Mercer was "one of the best things that ever happened to me."
Student speaker Chynna Taylor spoke of the importance of connections and community, which helped her achieve her goals at Mercer.
Funeral Science grads, front row, from left:  Kaitlyn Schaeffer,  Sara Chandler and Elena DiCostanzo; back row, from left: Joshua Schoenberg,  Anthony Correnti,  Richard McFillin,  Thomas Struck and John Napoli.