Holyoke Community College graduates 665 strong at 75th commencement

  • Holyoke Community College’s 75th commencement was held at the MassMutual Center in Springfield on Saturday, June 4 and celebrated the work of 665 graduates. STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • D’Andra Stewart, of Springfield, had her mortarboard customized to celebrate her graduation. Stewart graduated from Holyoke Community College with an associate’s degree in music. STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • Brianna Torres, of Springfield, waits alongside fellow Holyoke Community College graduates prior to the 75th commencement, which was held at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • Carolyn Sicbaldi of Holyoke, presented the class gift of a flowering dogwood tree, along with a stone that honors the Class of 2022 and graduates from 2021 and 2020 as part of Holyoke Community College’s 75th commencement. Sicbaldi graduated from the college with high honors and an associate’s degree in biology. STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • Jessica Totzeck, left, of Enfield, and Audrey Pilon, of Ludlow, both graduated with associate’s degrees in radiologic technology from Holyoke Community College at a ceremony at the MassMutual Center on Saturday, June 4.   STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • Jordy Figueroa, left, of Holyoke, and Kiara Falcon, of Springfield, both graduated with associate’s degrees in criminal justice from Holyoke Community College at a ceremony at the MassMutual Center on Saturday, June 4.   STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • Adora Cichon, left, of South Hadley, and Skylar Rocke, of Holyoke, graduated from Holyoke Community College on Saturday, June 4 in a ceremony held at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • Edil Ramsahai celebrated graduating on Saturday, June 4 from Holyoke Community College with honors and an associate’s degree in liberal arts by creating a TikTok to show to his family members. STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • The entire radiologic technology department’s graduates, from left: Erick Guzman, Audrey Pilon, Jessica Totzeck, Kylea McGrath and David Williams. STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

Staff Writer
Published: 6/4/2022 9:47:07 PM
Modified: 6/4/2022 9:44:57 PM

SPRINGFIELD — Standing backstage at the MassMutual Center for Holyoke Community College’s 75th commencement, minutes before assembling into a procession into the 8,000 square-foot arena, the 665 soon-to-be graduates fussed with their hair, posed for selfies and took deep breaths to compose themselves. 

One graduate took the time to commemorate the occasion with a TikTok. 

After instructing a newly-made friend on how to use the social media platform, 51-year-old Edil Ramsahai handed off his cell phone and began shimmying left and right in his ceremonial gown and mortarboard, blowing kisses and thrusting out his hands in a thumbs up motion. 

“This is for my family,” said the beaming Holyoke man on Saturday, June 4. “They’re all over the world.”

A native of Puerto Rico, Ramsahai graduates with honors from the college and an associate’s degree in liberal arts. He exuded pride as he described his future plans of going on to another college and to one day become a counselor. 

“I want to help people in my community, help people that are battling drug use and help kids stay straight in school. We can’t just leave people hurting on the street,” he said. “I love my country and my community and I want to make a difference here.”

In addition to Ramsahai, HCC graduates come from 66 different Massachusetts communities as well as from Connecticut, Florida, North Carolina and South Dakota. The ceremony also included international graduates from Belarus, Dominican Republic, Gambia, Guyana, Iraq, Kenya, Mexico, Russia, Tanzania, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam. 

In celebrating their accomplishments, HCC President Christina Royal underscored some of the country’s major events throughout the past few years, from wildfires in California and the death of George Floyd to Vice President Kamala Harris becoming the first woman, first Black American and the first Asian American to ever occupy the office. Royal also highlighted some of the college’s developments, including holding its first Pride flag-raising event and Trans flag-raising ceremony, becoming the first community college to accept SNAP benefits at its homestead market and becoming the first in college in western Massachusetts to develop a child-watch program to support student-parents. 

“Our world has been affected on so many levels, personally, culturally, spiritually and academically,” she said. “And in the midst of all of it, you made the decision to get a college education. You persevered through the most unpredictable circumstances and decided to forge ahead. While there may have been the most unrest we have experienced in our nation and our world, you have something very certain. A college degree.”

One graduate that was particularly proud of overcoming hurdles in her life was Carolyn Sicbaldi of Holyoke. Sicbaldi, who said she barely graduated from high school, graduated on Saturday with high honors and an associate’s degree in biology. A native of Hampden, she also was a member of the Student Senate and STEM Club. 

During commencement, Sicbaldi also served as a student speaker, presenting the class gift of a flowering dogwood tree, along with a stone plaque honoring the Class of 2022 as well as graduates from 2021 and 2020. 

This fall, she plans to continue her studies at Smith College where she will focus on environmental science and policy. From there, she hopes to land a career that allows to contribute to the fight against climate change. 

“I didn’t have a great high school experience … and ‘I didn’t apply myself’ as my mom would always say. And I did apply myself, eventually. It took 10 years, but I’m here. … I finally realized what my priorities were and what I valued. I wanted to make a change and prove to myself that I could actually do it,” she said. 

I was able to persevere through not only the stigma of coming back to college after 10 years, but also through a pandemic. I went through a break-up and had to move … It was trial after trial of difficulty, and as nervous as I am about today, it’s just another one of those trials. It’s another hurdle that I will pass over and say ‘I did that one, too.’”

Staff Writer Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.

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