Thousands of proud, smiling faces filled Norwich University’s Shapiro Field House on Saturday, as more than 550 students from across the state received associate degrees.
Graduates came from many backgrounds, representing all 14 Vermont counties, 12 other states, and 18 countries worldwide. They also spanned the generations; the youngest graduate was 17 and the eldest was 66.
The graduates heard from several speakers who offered congratulations and shared pieces of wisdom and advice for the future.
Keynote speaker Mark Redmond, executive director of Spectrum Youth and Family Services, spoke about the importance of grit and perseverance in achieving one’s goals.
Read The Speeches
“I can only imagine the challenges and difficulties some of you have overcome while in school: around transportation, around child care, around finances, finding the time to study while you are also working one or maybe even two jobs,” said Redmond. “Maybe your family wasn’t even supportive of you obtaining a college degree. But you did it. You didn’t give up. You got your college degree, and you know, very few people make it to the point you have.”
He also told the story of a young refugee whom he and his wife hosted when she first arrived in Vermont with her family from Kenya. She went on to graduate from CCV and is now an education student at the University of Vermont.
“She surrounded herself with responsible people and listened to their advice,” he said. “She surrounded herself with people who were role models for her, who could help her and coach her and mentor her. She recognized her dignity and what she deserved in life.”
While Redmond focused on grit as an important key to success, student speaker Ashley Andreas highlighted her desire to create change in the world around her. She passionately encouraged her fellow graduates to engage with their communities, citing public figures ranging from Florence Kelley to Bernie Sanders.
“While our individual successes are valuable and something to be proud of, I believe we sell ourselves short if we don’t give back to our communities and empower every person we come in contact with,” she said. “I believe my impact on others defines who I am. I have always been inspired by people who put the greater good of others before their own personal gains.”
In her speech to the graduates, CCV President Joyce Judy spoke on the diverse backgrounds of the graduating class, and the experiences at CCV that united them.
“While you come from different towns and diverse backgrounds, there are common qualities and beliefs all of our graduates possess,” said Judy. “You share the determination that has been required to overcome many challenges and complete your degrees. You share the belief that education is the foundation of success. You share the experience of waving away any last doubts and walking through the front doors of the Community College of Vermont on your first day of class.”
Governor Peter Shumlin also addressed the class of 2016.
“I’m here just to say congratulations. You will be the best Vermonters, because you know how to fight, you know how to overcome obstacles, you know how to make it work, you know how to use your imagination and your courage and your determination and your incredible intellect to get where you are right now. And I see in front of me huge successes ahead in each and every one of you.”
He also made a point of encouraging them to keep their talents in Vermont.
“You have made it. Many of you [will] go farther and that’s great. But just this huge accomplishment is going to lift your life and I’m just going to beg you to do it here in Vermont. You know there are 50 governors in America, but this I’m convinced of. There is nothing better than the Green Mountain State, to live, to work, to raise a family.”
As the graduates made their way out of the field house and into the warm summer sun, they brought their journey at CCV to an end and set off to pursue their next adventure. Whatever it might be, they will confront it equipped with a college degree and Andreas’ parting advice: “hold on to your dreams.”
Photos by Josh Larkin