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HCC holds its 66th commencement

  • Holyoke Community College graduating seniors Councilette Sherard, left, and Sarah Shevlin share a laugh Saturday at the class of 2013 commencement ceremony at the college. Sherard graduated with an Associate in Science, in Arts and Science, and Shevlin with an Associate in Arts, in Arts & Science.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Holyoke Community College graduating seniors Councilette Sherard, left, and Sarah Shevlin share a laugh Saturday at the class of 2013 commencement ceremony at the college. Sherard graduated with an Associate in Science, in Arts and Science, and Shevlin with an Associate in Arts, in Arts & Science.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Holyoke Community College graduating senior Meaghan O'Connell, left, talks with Belitza Perez-Timms Saturday prior to the class of 2013 commencement ceremony at the college. Both women graduated with an Associate in Arts in Arts and Science.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Holyoke Community College graduating senior Meaghan O'Connell, left, talks with Belitza Perez-Timms Saturday prior to the class of 2013 commencement ceremony at the college. Both women graduated with an Associate in Arts in Arts and Science.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Bagpipers play Saturday during the processional at Holyoke Community College class of 2013 commencement ceremony.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Bagpipers play Saturday during the processional at Holyoke Community College class of 2013 commencement ceremony.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Holyoke Community College graduating senior Shalawnda Johnson, center, walks Saturday during the class of 2013 commencement ceremony at the college in Holyoke. Johnson graduated with a an Associate in Science in Human Services.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Holyoke Community College graduating senior Shalawnda Johnson, center, walks Saturday during the class of 2013 commencement ceremony at the college in Holyoke. Johnson graduated with a an Associate in Science in Human Services.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Holyoke Community College graduating seniors Councilette Sherard, left, and Sarah Shevlin share a laugh Saturday at the class of 2013 commencement ceremony at the college. Sherard graduated with an Associate in Science, in Arts and Science, and Shevlin with an Associate in Arts, in Arts & Science.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Holyoke Community College graduating senior Meaghan O'Connell, left, talks with Belitza Perez-Timms Saturday prior to the class of 2013 commencement ceremony at the college. Both women graduated with an Associate in Arts in Arts and Science.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Bagpipers play Saturday during the processional at Holyoke Community College class of 2013 commencement ceremony.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Holyoke Community College graduating senior Shalawnda Johnson, center, walks Saturday during the class of 2013 commencement ceremony at the college in Holyoke. Johnson graduated with a an Associate in Science in Human Services.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

After making their way up to a massive tent that had been erected on the school’s soccer field, the approximately 1,000 students of the class of 2013 were greeted by hundreds of cheering family members, friends, college faculty and relatives.

As they filed into their seats, a small five-piece band performed an unusual rendition of the familiar graduation tune “Pomp & Circumstance,” which included a saxophone, acoustic bass, piano and trumpet.

The ceremony included a number of speeches, including two from student orators and a short greeting from Representative Aaron Vega, of the Fifth Hampden District, who was a 1990 Holyoke Community College graduate.

The annual Elaine Marieb Faculty Chair for Teaching Excellence award was presented to Spanish professor Monica V. Torregrosa. During her acceptance speech, which was periodically garnished with a few lines of Spanish, Torregrosa spoke about her experiences as a student at the Universidad de Concepción in Chile, where she studied language.

“This occasion reminds me of my own college years in Chile. I can recall those years fondly, even though they were not happy years. The country was under a cruel dictatorship, and the unemployment rate was higher than 20 percent,” said Torregrosa.

“However, when I think of those years, I do not dwell on the fear of the government. Instead I recall the courageous classmates who were struggling to organize a student government at a time when any civic organization was banned. I recall the thrilling discussions late into the night after a stimulating class,” she continued.

She urged the graduating students to remember the positive aspects of their time at Holyoke Community College and the guidance that the faculty and staff gave them as well when they look back on their own college careers.

“When you look back upon your years at HCC, what will you remember? Will the painful events of Newtown and Boston during the last year come to mind? Will you dwell on the struggles to balance works, family and studies?” she said. “I would venture that while not entirely forgiving the difficulties, instead you will remember the support the great HCC community gave you. Recall a professor who mentored you, and be a mentor to others,” she said.

Student orators Matt Cunningham and Samantha Melendez each gave an account of their experiences at Holyoke Community College, with a focus on the hardships that each endured and overcame to finally receive their diplomas.

Cunningham — who first enrolled at HCC nearly two decades ago — recounted his multiple attempts to complete his college career, his fight to overcome addiction and the trials of raising his two young daughters while attending school.

“When I first start my career at Holyoke Community, I was a kid, scared, immature, lacking any direction and going to school just because it’s what I was supposed to be doing. In the time since then, I’ve battled addiction, been married, happily divorced, and became the father to two of the most wonderful little girls,” said Cunningham.

He said that though he was able to overcome his addiction, he wanted to help people who were dealing with the same issues, and decided to go back to school in 2011.

Melendez spoke of her experience as a victim of domestic abuse and how the members of the HCC community helped her escape that situation and pursue her education.

Cunningham will graduate with a degree in social work, while Melendez has been accepted at both Amherst and Mount Holyoke colleges, where she plans to major in English literature with the goal of becoming a high school teacher or college professor.

Distinguished Service awards were presented to James Carey, owner of Carey’s Flowers in South Hadley and former member of the Board of Trustees, Lydia Petoskey, a former student who started the Safe Zone initiative at HCC, and Greg Schneider, who created a scholarship in memory of the late professor Miriam Sajkovic.

Many of the graduating students expressed a plethora of emotions towards their graduation, with two of the most common being excitement and relief.

Chris Pardave, 20, of West Springfield, has spent the last two and a half years studying psychology at HCC.

“It’s been a good experience, I really liked it here,” said Pardave. “It was a really friendly environment, the teachers are willing to help and the class sizes are a bit smaller than other schools,” he said.

Pardave will transfer to Westfield State University, where he plans on continuing studying psychology and eventually become a counselor.

“I’d like to be a counselor at a high school or middle school,” he said. “I’ve always liked helping kids out.” Austin Hathaway, a 20-year-old business administration major from Westhampton, plans on putting his education to work at his father’s construction business, Hathaway Construction, which runs a quarry that supplies concrete merchants.

“I’m excited and happy to be done, but there’s still more to be done. This is just a new stepping stone,” he said. He hopes that one day he will be able to help run the business.

“It’s just a good day, and I’m glad it finally came,” said David Frank, a 28-year-old accounting student from East Longmeadow. “It took a while, but it’s finally here,” he said.

Frank said that he plans on continuing his education at Elms College, where he will pursue a bachelor’s degree in accounting through an accelerated 18-month partnership program offered by Elms and Holyoke Community colleges.

“I plan on getting my CPA, and someday I want to be a CEO or CFO of my own company,” he said. “I want to work for myself instead of someone else. That’s what it’s all about.”

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