Holyoke Community College graduates told to emphasize their individuality

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  • Tiffany Cavanaugh was the second of two student orators to speak at Holyoke Community College's 72nd commencement, held at the MassMutual Center in Springfield on Saturday, June 1, 2019. Armanis Fuentes, a fellow Associate in Arts in Liberal Arts graduate, also spoke. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Savannah Vezina of Agawam is applauded by Holyoke Community College faculty as she walks in the processional of the school's 72nd commencement, held at the MassMutual Center in Springfield on Saturday, June 1, 2019. Vezina is now headed to Smith College. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Aliya Pinkney of Holyoke chats with friends as the 864 graduates of Holyoke Community College — some with multiple degrees — line up for the processional Saturday. STAFF PHOTOS/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holyoke Community College English professor Lisa Mahon of Easthampton, the 2019 recipient of the Elaine Marieb Faculty Chair for Teaching Excellence, tells the 864 graduates, "You made it!" as she began her acceptance speech at the school's 72nd commencement, held at the MassMutual Center in Springfield on Saturday, June 1, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • ArmanisFuentes, the first of two student orators at Holyoke Community College's 72nd commencement Saturday, spoke of his personal struggles to overcome adversity.

  • Holyoke Community College alumnus U.S. Army PFC Jonathan Mendez, now stationed in Louisiana, sings "The Star Spangled Banner" at the school's 72nd commencement, held at the MassMutual Center in Springfield on Saturday, June 1, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Savannah Vezina of Agawam stops to get hugs from Holyoke Community College faculty members Diane Beers, center, and Patricia Sandoval during the school's 72nd commencement at the MassMutual Center in Springfield on Saturday. Vezina is now headed to Smith College. STAFF PHOTOS/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Laura Guerdon of Belchertown smiles at presenter Lisa Mahon after being recognized for her perfect 4.0 GPA during Holyoke Community College's 72nd commencement, held at the MassMutual Center in Springfield on Saturday, June 1, 2019. Guerdon is one of 12 valedictorians in the HCC class of 2019, two of whom are from Belchertown. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holyoke Community College Student Senate Treasurer Natilie Besner, center, and her fellow senate members announce the class gift during the school's 72nd commencement, held at the MassMutual Center in Springfield on Saturday, June 1, 2019. From left are Adam Abdelrahman, Adam Chapman, (Besner), Ithar Sheikheldingabriel and Haley Woods. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holyoke Community College President Christina Royal welcomes friends and family to the school's 72nd commencement, held at the MassMutual Center in Springfield on Saturday, June 1, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holyoke Community College graduates gather before the processional for the school's 72nd commencement, held at the MassMutual Center in Springfield on Saturday, June 1, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO / KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer 
Published: 6/1/2019 7:05:15 PM

SPRINGFIELD – At the commencement ceremony for Holyoke Community College on Saturday, student speaker Armanis Fuentes said that HCC gave him an opportunity when it seemed his dreams of higher education were dashed. 

“In the middle of my senior year at Holyoke High School, a school resource officer wrongfully, and with no warning, arrested me and charged me with a felony,” Fuentes, 21, of Springfield, told nearly 4,000 people at the MassMutual Center. “I went from being a rising star student since I was a kid to almost being a convicted felon at 17. That was a dark time for me, and truthfully, I thought my college career was over before it began.” 

Fuentes said the confrontation with the school resource officer occurred in the middle of his senior year of high school and it caused him to drop out of Holyoke High. After finishing high school in Chicopee, and stints at a hair salon and law office in Dorchester, Fuentes returned to Holyoke to enroll in HCC in 2016.  

On Saturday he graduated with an associate degree in liberal arts with high honors. The future looks bright for Fuentes as he heads to Williams College to study history and Latin studies on a scholarship in the fall. Fuentes was among the 864 graduates Saturday, who ranged in age from 18 to 79.

“I have HCC to thank for giving me the audacity to dream big and the academic foundation that I will build upon at Williams,” Fuentes said.

Graduates received their degrees onstage at the MassMutual Center at the college’s 72nd commencement ceremony. The Class of 2019 is made up of graduates from more than 27 nationalities, and HCC President Christina Royal encouraged students to use their diversity to their advantage.

“Diversity is our strength as an institution and your uniqueness is your strength as an HCC graduate,” Royal said. “I encourage you to embrace your unique gifts and leverage them to accomplish your goals in life.”

Innovation and creativity are driven by diversity, Royal said, because it challenges new perspectives to be considered.

“Resist the temptation to fit in the mold of others and instead recognize that your individuality is a gift to the world and others,” Royal said.

HCC English professor Lisa Mahon said from the podium that students have taught her the “true meaning of resilience.”

“I have seen formerly incarcerated women stand up and speak their truths … I have witnessed teen mothers find their voices by reading poetry so powerful to HCC students that there was not one dry eye left in the room … For others of you, English was not your first language … but still, you kept going,” Mahon said.

Fuentes said that courses at HCC, such as “Cops, Crime and Class,” “Caribbean Identities in History and Literature,” and “The Immigrant City,” gave him an economic understanding of the underpinnings of criminal behavior, and spoke to some his own experiences growing up in South Holyoke.

“I’m interested in the Puerto Rican diaspora in the U.S.,” Fuentes said. “I’m also interested in education equity because my whole life has been about fighting for equity.” 

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com 




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