By midday on Friday, May 17th, 137 degrees and certificates were conveyed to the graduates of Washington County Community College during its annual ceremony. As important and valuable as said credentials are, both the graduates and those addressing them focused on a relationship fostered by the WCCC experience during the event: bettering the community through individual success.
WCCC President Susan Mingo welcomed those in attendance to a “day to think about the future and revel in the past,” and invited them to consider the example they were setting as graduates. “Individually and collectively, you will have a profound impact on your families, friends, and communities,” she said. She praised the graduates for harnessing “the power of education to open up greater opportunities” in their lives. She then acknowledged the invaluable network of relatives and loved ones that stands behind each graduate: “Without your support along the voyage, for many, this day would not have been possible.”
As the students of WCCC pursued their academic goals, they simultaneously immersed themselves in the community, President Mingo said. In the past year, students contributed to the rehabilitation of the Thomas DiCenzo Athletic Complex, collected holiday gifts for children in need, raised funds for Sarah’s House and the Ronald McDonald House via the Polar Bear Dip, coordinated a sexual assault awareness and prevention campaign, and more. “You are an impressive, extraordinary group of individuals that we couldn’t be prouder of,” President Mingo said.
Bill Cassidy, Maine Community College System [MCCS] trustee and President Emeritus of WCCC, encouraged the graduates to return to the area to continue the cycle of joint enrichment. He further urged the women in the audience to never let gender be a barrier to them, and to look to the many examples set within the college administration.
David Daigler, MCCS President, echoed Dr. Cassidy’s call for graduates to return or stay in the state and contribute their knowledge and expertise to the community. He emphasized how the faculty of WCCC will always be the graduates’ “partner in a lifelong journey of education.”
Continuing the appeal to stay in the area was Pender Makin, Commissioner for the Maine Department of Education. “Individually, each one of our graduates is contributing to a brighter future in the state of Maine,” Makin said. She described the importance of acknowledging that “adversity is what gives us our shape and our strength” and drew a powerful analogy as to how the unique rugged coast of Maine was created by the weight of the massive Laurentide ice sheet. “The hardships we endure help us to become strong, and that you are showing us today,” Makin said.
Embodying Makin’s words was Student of the Year and proud member of the Passamaquoddy nation Briggette Newell-Bowen, who shared some of her story of perseverance during her address. She experienced a challenging early life that saw a cancer diagnosis and ensuing addiction to painkillers. After 14 years of being out of school, she was concerned that her drug usage had compromised her learning ability. In the first year at WCCC, however, she began to gain confidence in herself and her goal. Making the Dean’s list helped, but, more than that, it was what she was actively learning in Human Services and from the example set by her advisor and program director, Liz Sullivan. “That first year, I learned a lot,” she explained. “I learned so much about everything I planned to do, and it was all because of her.” She entered an internship working with others in recovery, and found it to be as fulfilling as she had imagined. “I finally started to feel like a productive member of society,” she said.
Keynote speaker Charlie Martin-Berry, Director of the Community Caring Collaborative, spoke to the graduates about making big decisions and how it can be hard to know how they’ll pan out. “…When you really get your heart, your head, and your gut in alignment” – or your goals, values, and strategies – “you don’t regret those decisions.”
With the conclusion of the ceremony, the graduates stepped forward on their own individual paths – now fully aware of the collective brightening their success at WCCC precedes.