Commencement 2018

Commencement 2018 Speeches

Welcome: Mary Ellen Jukoski, Ed.D., President, Three Rivers Community College

Three Rivers faculty and staff … welcome! Thank you all for joining us today. Congratulations graduates on this spectacular day! This ceremony is one of my favorite days of the academic year. Today, we celebrate and honor you, our graduates. You number almost 600, and you come from all walks of life, each with your own unique story.

You chose to enroll at Three Rivers for its affordable, accessible education. You walked the halls of this fine institution, you sat in the library studying, you attended classes with our faculty, you sat with your peers to study … you did all of this to reach your goal … to graduate! And here you are today … and here we all are today gathered to celebrate you and your accomplishments! This evening, I want to highlight the diversity and achievements of you, our students. As I call your name, would you please stand and be recognized. We have:

  1. Raven Dillon, President of the Student Government Association graduating with an associates in liberal arts and sciences earning magna cum laude honors. Raven please stand.
  2. We have Miranda Fabre, Vice President of the Student Government Association, President of Sigma, Vice President of SAGE, a student programs student worker and a member of the campus activity board graduating today with an associates in science in general studies.
  3. Zoe Hayn, would you please stand? Zoe is Secretary of the Student Government Association, President of SPAG, (student performing arts guild), a student programs student worker, a member of the campus activity board, and a very talented actress, who is graduating with cum laude honors. Zoe is transferring to the University of Rhode Island in the fall into the theatre arts program.
  4. Benjamin Crowley. Where are you? Benjamin Is Treasurer of the Student Government Association and SIGMA (sexual identity and gender minority advocates), President of the Writers Guild, and a fine actor who is graduating with an associates in arts in liberal arts and sciences along with a certificate in women’s studies. Benjamin is the second one in his family to graduate with an associates degree.
  5. Benjamin Coombs. Would you please stand? Benjamin is the President of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, the student representative to the College Congress and, Vice President of The Voices of the River Choir.

For so many of you here today, you are the first in your family to earn a degree. Would you please rise if you are the first in your family to earn a degree?

This is a great accomplishment. Welcome to the family of our college graduates. Thank you. You all may be seated.

  1. Today we have Heather Dyer and Adam Dyer with us. Heather and Adam got married on May 23, 2015. As Heather says, “we will both be celebrating our 3rd year anniversary today by walking down the aisle again once more, but this time to get our associate degrees.”
  2. We have Cyndy Arpin, Assistant Professor Nursing, and her daughter, Cassandra Stimson. Cyndy graduated from the TRCC nursing program in 1994 and served as the President of the Student Nurses Association. Cassandra is also graduating from the TRCC nursing program and is also the President of the Student Nurses Association. In addition, Cassandra has just accepted a position as a registered nurse in the emergency department at Backus Hospital, the same emergency department where her mother Cyndy spent many years as the evening charge nurse.
  3. Maximo Alfaro. Where are you? Please stand. Maximo came from Peru just 4 years ago. He did not speak English so he studied first at New London adult education and continued here in our English-as-a-second-language program. Today he is graduating in liberal arts and sciences. And, he will continue his studies this fall at Wesleyan College with a full scholarship. Congratulations, Maximo!
  4. Chloe Johnson would you please stand? Chloe is graduating with an associates in arts, liberal arts and sciences, and with a certificate in general studies. A friend of Chloe’s, Nicole Grabner, Nicole would you please stand. Nicole is graduating with a CT State College and University Pathway Transfer Degree in Psychology Studies. Chloe and Nicole represent so many of our students. According to Professor Pamela Carroll, – “they worked together in the copy center and became good friends, supported each other throughout the ups and downs of college life. They are moving on to Eastern CT State University.” Congratulations to both of you!!!
  5. We have a mother and daughter graduating together today. Nancy Girardin, who is graduating with an associates in science in nursing, and her daughter Melissa Girardin is graduating with an associate in science in accounting. Nancy is already using her nursing degree at her new job at Bridebrook Rehab in Niantic. Melissa is going on To Eastern CT State University to pursue her degree in certified public accounting.
  6. Our next two students are success stories from our 2nd Chance Pell Program. Maurice Mitchell and Thomas Ibbision, would you both please stand, they are receiving certificates in environmental health and safety management. They started in our program and continued their studies here at Three Rivers, driving from Bridgeport for every class. They both are planning to continue their education here toward a degree in the environmental engineering technology program.
  7. Next, I would like to ask Jean Turnier, to please stand. Jean who is graduating with an associate in science in general studies, took classes at Mohegan in 1974, left to work in the medical field for 40 years including 25 years as a medical practice manager, then she took some classes here over the years but in September 2016, decided to complete her degree. Jean earned 22 credits for her life experience through our assessment of prior learning program. Jean now plans to transfer to Eastern CT State University to earn her bachelor’s degree. Congratulations Jean!!! Jean is a wonderful example that it’s never too late!!!
  8. And………….you’re never too old or too young to learn. Today we have Gary Tobias here, Gary would you please stand. Gary is 68 years young graduating with an associate in science in hospitality management. And we have Christopher Annino. Christopher would you please stand. Christopher, who at just 16 years of age is graduating with an associate in applied science in construction management. Awesome Christopher!!!
  9. We have students from the Three Rivers Middle College Magnet High School graduating today. Jaeden Christopher Spitale is graduating with an associate degree in general studies, cum laude. Jaeden would you please stand? Jaeden is continuing his education at the University of Connecticut honors program in law. I would like to ask Alexi Switz to stand with Jaeden. Alexi is also graduating with an associate in science degree in general studies, summa cum laude and heading to the University of Connecticut in an honors program in bio-medical engineering. Alexi and Jaeden, we wish you both great success!

Today I would also like to acknowledge our veteran students….our graduates from the class of 2018 and those who are pursuing their education, as well as the families and friends of these graduates. I would also like to ask all of our veterans here today to stand along with our veteran students so we can honor your service to our country!!!

Friends, sadly, this year we’ve lost members of our learning community. At this time, I would like to ask that we have a moment of reflection to remember those not with us today. May they remain forever a part of the fabric of our lives and hearts.

Thank you.

Today I speak to all our graduates and say, this is your day to celebrate your commitment to learning, the effort and dedication you invested to pursue your education, and your perseverance to make this day possible.

Graduates, I hope that Three Rivers Community College has been –

  • a place that ignited the spark of learning that will cause you to be a lifelong learner
  • a place that introduced you to the value of the liberal arts
  • a place that instilled in you the desire to strive for excellence academically, personally and professionally
  • a place where individual faculty members have touched your life in ways you never would have imagined.
  • a place that provided a solid academic foundation for you to choose a profession to pursue that will allow you to make a difference in the lives of others.
  • and finally, a place where human relationships will lead to lasting friendships.

As you do so, there are family and friends who join you today who know well your educational journey. I have had the pleasure of meeting your parents, spouses, siblings and children when they attended honor society inductions, student leader award banquets, and scholarship awards events to mention a few. These events make us keenly aware that we don’t succeed alone.

Graduates, as you celebrate your accomplishments and a new beginning and a new future of opportunity made possible in part by family and friends, please stand and turn around and salute your faithful supporters and enthusiastic cheerleaders!

Graduates, we are so happy to share this day with you and the promise of a bright future!

Commencement Address and Greeting from the Connecticut Board of Regents: Matt Fleury, M.B.A., Chair of the Board of Regents for Higher Education, President/CEO, Connecticut Science Center

Good Evening.

It’s an honor – and a true joy – to share this moment with you.

Thank you, President Jukoski, for your invitation to address this incredibly promising class of graduates. You suggested that I share some reflections on my experiences as a community college student, and I am very glad to do so.

To rely on stories about my heroics in community college would be to guarantee a short speech. This may be an appealing idea to many of you. But you are not so fortunate. As you know, you have endured a great many lectures for the privilege of hearing just one more on the occasion of your commencement. Far be it from me to deny you that right.

But I am sympathetic. This ironic bit of ceremony can seem endless. So I will strive to offer more wisdom than wind. Understand, there is not a guaranteed ratio here. But, you speaker is considerate of your plight.

Very much to the point of this celebration, I am happy to inform you that my studies and graduation were just the beginnings of my life as a community college student. Even though your “ID Card” status as active students at Three Rivers may expire, you are now and forever a product of this experience. This is the new calling card that you carry forward from tonight, and it matters more than what you have done to get here. That’s the true value of education…the elevated capability that is now part of you: The greater person you have made yourself into, with the guiding, teaching hand of the caring educators who have shared their gifts with you here at Three Rivers.

You have changed yourselves in extraordinary ways. For life. You have exercised those intellectual muscles that we as humans are uniquely blessed to have. That’s a choice. It is not the easy road. But it is the right road and it will make the rest of your days more rewarding for you, and enable you to be a stronger and more beneficial influence on the people and world around you.

I do remember the day, under a music hall shed in Western Massachusetts in spring of 1985 (33 years!), when I walked across the stage in my synthetic, forest green cap and gown. Those were the team colors at Berkshire Community College. Proudly, with some surprise at what I had achieved, and with great relief did that boy receive his diploma that day.

(Incidentally, I have no memory of the commencement speaker, who I feel sure was better than yours. More articulate. And probably a better candidate to fund the endowment).

An Associates Degree in Theater Arts would be the first academic credential of the 2018 Three Rivers Community College commencement speaker. If I can’t handle myself on stage, it’s not for lack of effort by the faculty of BCC.

I mention this because it may resonate with those many of you who undertook your studies here as part of a transition in your life, or career. College has always been part of those transitions for me. Even in those cases where I wasn’t exactly sure where it was taking me. It took me the better things.

In part, I had enrolled in the theater arts program in the afterglow of my acclaimed performance as Captain Hook’s sidekick, Mr. Smee, in the high school production of Peter Pan. The curtain calls on the tiny stage in an old hayloft (our theater) in high school were enthusiastic. Naturally, I saw no reason this shouldn’t carry me to stardom on stage and screen.

But … there was a little bit more to the story. The truth is, the future president & CEO of the Connecticut Science Center had not enjoyed such accolades in high school math and science. Indeed, he sought to avoid future confrontations with these subjects at all costs. So theater arts it was!

Yes, this is a world in which one thing can lead to another in ways that are not always predictable. This road full of surprises is the graph-line of life.

For reasons that may at this very moment have become evident, the stage did not invite me back. President Jukoski, who is truly a good person, must nevertheless be held accountable for this faltering presentation. If this doesn’t get better very quickly, I will have a word with the front office first thing in the morning.

Returning to course momentarily here, I want to credit the Work Study program at BCC for connecting me to what would become my first career … applying my theatrical skills behind the microphones of local radio stations. Ten years into a broadcast news career (aided in part by another community college internship … that one in journalism), change came calling again.

After a tour in corporate public and government relations … all this on that theater arts degree … I found myself involved with development projects in Hartford. Still another unanticipated chapter, and one that led me – finally – back to school.

See if some of this resonates with your story: in my 30’s, moving into managerial roles, the need for additional preparation was apparent. I found a path to a bachelor’s degree here in Connecticut at Charter Oak State College, (which I highly recommend as an excellent, affordable, Bachelors or even Masters option). This enabled me to contend for the MBA program at UCONN, which I finished in my late thirties, in preparation for my return to science at the Connecticut Science Center.

I think this road (now shockingly long) might be familiar to those of you who have returned to school later in your careers. Life presents opportunities. Our capacity is nearly endless, if only we have someone to teach us to use it. And since the need for new capabilities can arise long after the traditional “college years”, it is crucial that vehicles for that change are available to everyone … especially those of us who didn’t grow up with great financial privilege.

This gets to a point I hope you’ll take up as you introduce yourself as a college graduate starting … how does “right now” sound!? A full-fledged graduate of a high quality institution of higher education that worked you as hard as any other. That holds itself and its students to the same standards as any other college. That you can be proud of and that is proud of you.

(Every time I am part of a community college commencement, I find a little chip sprouts on my shoulder. And it grows fast. Just listen):

Too many people misunderstand community college and community college students. We’re not lesser students of lesser institutions. We’re graduates of great colleges that serve great people in great communities across the country. Graduates who become the backbone of American productivity, ingenuity and vitality.

580 of you are receiving degrees and certificates tonight (if I ever get finished here). Some of you are even receiving TWO degrees! (Bow down). Emily Lighthouse is actually getting THREE! Three cheers for Emily! (3 cheers). Something tells us Ms. Lighthouse is not done illuminating the way forward. Stay close to her!

People talk about the “low graduation rate” among community college students sometimes. Do you know how the federal government traditionally calculates graduation rates … the very rates that tell the world whether you attend a “good” college (Like US News ratings)? By that standard, if you don’t get your degree within 3 years of entering the school, you don’t count! Hello! These people work! 50% of the students we celebrate tonight work full time! The other half? Almost all work part time. Statistically, you’re probably not a kid going straight to a 4-year school with room and board paid by mom and dad, where all you focus on is a full load of courses. Are you? You’re piling your studies on top of a full life of personal, professional commitments that grown-ups have. Excuse us if we need a little more time to take all those classes! That’s not failure. That’s character, persistence, rigor and commitment. That’s a WINNER!!!

And even if it took you a little longer to finish up at community college, almost half of you are going straight into a 4-year college. Where you’ll do the same thing. You’ll cram higher education into a world swamped with other grown-up responsibilities. Kids, aging parents, hard jobs, weird hours, mortgages, rent, car repairs. Whatever. (This latter group has already demonstrated brilliant financial management…stacking up half of a “Bachelor’s Degree” at Three Rivers’ affordable prices, leaving just two years left to buy for a degree from a more expensive “four year” institution. Extra credit for you on that test, thank you very much).

And by the way, while US News or Washington might hover over traditional definitions of academic value or success, remember that the boss at the submarine factory or the head of the ER is just as interested in folks from non-credit workforce programs that aren’t even considered.

Indeed, there’s a whole cohort of Three Rivers students not here tonight who are headed for future commencements because of that. They are getting a fast certificate or non-credit course under their belts, going to work at EB, and then EB is paying for them to come back and join you in the great community of Three Rivers alumni. That’s an opportunity pipeline we can believe in!

Ok, rant over.

My passion for that point is matched only by my enthusiasm for this one:

(And if I appear to gravitate to underdog positions, perhaps it will be helpful to know that I cried at the last game in the history of the Hartford Whalers. Yes. I was a Whalers fan and I still am. There’s something about the home team, win or lose, that attracts me. And you’re the home team here in Southeastern Connecticut).

Yes, Connecticut is home. Yes, we can’t go a day without somebody telling us how all the rich people are leaving, or how people don’t love us anymore for one reason or another.

You know who’s not leaving? Us! You. Of all the lofty institutions of higher education in Connecticut, none provides more talent to the workforce of our state than the community colleges. I bet there’s no greater provider of talent to this neck of the woods than Three Rivers. And why not? Look at you!

And there are jobs. Electric Board and its supply chain are under enormous pressure to deliver new submarines. Health care institutions can’t hire fast enough. Employers need people to do that work, and that means opportunity. That means work that feeds your families, pays your bills, fixes your roofs and sends your kids to college. That means there’s life in our economy here. And since you –and students across the community colleges and state universities – are MORE likely to stay in Connecticut and do these jobs in Connecticut, your employers are more likely to stay in Connecticut.

So, by obvious extension, you and your education here are the best investment our state can make. I’m not running for anything, but I hope those who are will consider making that a big part of their platform.

I’m not sure I’m sending you forth with any great revelations here. But if I might attempt a summation of my own ramble…I have tried to offer you this:

  1. Respect for your achievement and the conditions under which you earned it.
  2. Respect for the institution from which you graduate and for institutions like it.
  3. Respect for our community. Connecticut’s not dead. You’re the reason why.
  4. Respect for the reality that life is not always predictable. That self-improvement is the constant. And that our ability to rise to opportunities are immeasurably enhanced by education.

You’re more ready tonight than you have ever been. And, witness your own plans, you’re not finished yet. But this is a great, great milestone.

Your achievement, and the moment you share tonight with your teachers, classmates, friends and families is truly moving and inspiring.

Congratulations. Thank you. God Bless you.

Greetings from the Faculty: Michael Carta, M.S., Professor of Chemistry, Chair, Faculty Senate

Good evening.

On behalf of the faculty at Three Rivers Community College, it is my great pleasure to welcome you to this commencement exercise and congratulate you on a job well done.

Whether you are entering the workforce, or re-entering the workforce, or continuing on to further studies, you have reached an important milestone, and we are grateful to have been a part of your journey.

You know, the educational experience is a two-way street.

The faculty are in a unique position because we have the opportunity to observe first-hand your thought processes and creativity, your technical skills, and, above all, your individuality.

We are privileged to work with such a diverse student population and we are committed to helping you succeed; not just while you are here, but beyond Three Rivers.

As students, you have challenged us and opened our eyes to questions and viewpoints that we might not have considered.

It is our hope that you take with you fond memories (aside from the exams!) and a strong desire to continue learning … because that is what makes life interesting.

As a teacher once told me, it’s not about the subject, it’s about the students! You inspire us, and hopefully we have inspired you.

Thank you for being a part of our lives and making us better teachers. Congratulations and best of luck moving forward!

Student Graduate Address: Natallia O. Romanenko, Valedictorian

Good afternoon, fellow graduates, faculty and staff, families, and friends. It is a huge honor for me to address our Class of 2018. We finally did it!

I have been at Three Rivers for two years, and this experience has greatly changed me. I’ve met so many wonderful people here and learned so much from them. I came here for an affordable education and a flexible schedule so that I could work, study and care for my kids. I didn’t expect much from it, but I was so wrong. I am greatly impressed and deeply touched by the quality of education, faculty qualification, and warm and supportive environment here. I feel deeply grateful to all professors who taught me, and I’d like to give special thanks to:

  • Kelly Molkenthin, who is amazing at making math fun and engaging;
  • Joseph Johnson, who inspired me to major in Computer Science;
  • Professor Michael Carta, who taught us how to make aspirin;
  • and Professor George Volkov, whose digital logic opened my eyes to how machines really work…

My fellow graduates, we came to Three Rivers for different reasons: everybody here has a story to tell with his or her own dreams and struggles. Still, we all wanted to get ahead in our lives: to pursue our dreams, to identify our greatest passions, to get a better job, to find friends and mentors … but for whatever reason we came here, it was a great decision to do so.

It is not only the diploma we received here at Three Rivers. What we received was so much bigger than that: a high-quality education and confidence that we could succeed while facing difficulties. We are supposed to become more prepared for real life after college, but many of us are already facing real-life challenges: families to care for, jobs and other life commitments. Receiving a diploma for many of us meant much sacrifice.

It is not so hard to study when you have nothing else to care about. It is way more difficult to graduate from a college when you don’t have enough time, money, and energy, when you have to juggle raising kids, having a job, and being a student. I’ve spent so many nights, seated at my kitchen table, doing my homework while my kids do theirs. I made these sacrifices for the same reason that you probably did, because we want a better life and are ready to fight for it, no matter how hard it is. A quote from Theodore Roosevelt states, “Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength.” We should be so proud of ourselves and of the hard work we completed. Cherish this moment and this accomplishment!

Congratulations, Class of 2018! We made it!