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Students shine at graduation ceremonies

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Student Tanoha Joseph, a native of Haiti who moved to the U.S. when she was 10, was awarded three associate degrees and earned two scholarships to continue to a four-year institution.​

​Beyond the big-name speakers and the pomp and ceremony involved with graduation, it all comes down to the graduates and their stories. For many, getting to this point meant overcoming tremendous obstacles, which makes graduation all the sweeter.

At Norwalk Community College in Connecticut, Vennette Perez, a mother of two who lost her home during the recession, was chosen class speaker.

“This is an opportunity that I never even dreamed would happen to me,” Perez said.

Perez put her education on hold when she had her first child at age 15. Her son, Ernest, graduated from NCC last year, and now it’s her turn. Perez, who operated her own business, the Kiddie Kitchen, is graduating this week with a degree in restaurant and food service management. She plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management and aspires to one day own her cooking show on TV.

Irma Acosta is a member of national honor society Phi Theta Kappa and will graduate from Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU)-Roswell with an associate of arts degree. She’ll continue her education at ENMU, studying mathematics. Acosta said it wouldn’t be happening without the Presidential Scholarship she earned.

“If it wasn’t for the Presidential Scholarship, I would still be taking classes here, but I probably wouldn’t be graduating and transferring to my bachelor’s degree with such convenience,” Acosta said.

Acosta is also the ceremony’s featured speaker.

Immigrants earn success

For Marisol Gomez, attending Edison State College (ESC) in Florida was a family affair. Gomez, who moved to Florida from Mexico with her family when she was age 9, was the keynote speaker at the college’s May 6 associate in arts commencement ceremony. Two of Gomez’s brothers recently graduated from ESC. Her sister was part of this year’s graduation with Gomez, who plans to attend Florida Gulf Coast University in the fall as a biology major, eyeing to become a dentist.

ESC also graduated Tanoha Joseph, a native of Haiti who moved to the U.S. when she was 10. She said God opened a door, but “stepping through that door was challenging.” Ultimately, though, it was a wise decision to make.

She earned an associate in arts degree, an associate in science in business degree and an associate in science in accounting degree. She also earned two scholarships—the Bright Futures Scholarship and a Phi Theta Kappa scholarship—to help support her when she transfers to the University of Florida, where she will major in accounting.

"Achieving your education is truly a combination of perspiration and inspiration," said Roberta Darling, the keynote speaker at St. Clair County Community College’s (SCCCC) in Michigan May 6 graduation ceremony. “While perspiration is an inside job, inspiration is the lifesaving breath you receive from others.”

Darling, 50, graduated with an associate degree and will transfer to Wayne State University to pursue a degree in elementary education. She said she was able to earn her degree because of the inspiration she received from students and staff at SCCCC, and she encouraged graduates to continue to inspire others. 

“There are more people drawing inspiration from you than you will ever know,” Darling said.

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