FARMINGTON - â€śCommencement is a monumental milestone in oneâ€™s life,â€ť said James Lombella, president of Tunxis and Asnuntuck community colleges, at the Tunxis Class of 2018 commencement Wednesday evening.
â€śIt is the realization of a dream, the achievement of an aspiration, and the result of ambition. It took persistence and determination to get to this point,â€ť he said.
Tunxis conferred a total of 803 degrees and certificates to a total of 645 graduates at the ceremony, which was held at Central Connecticut State Universityâ€™s Welte Hall Auditorium in New Britain this year.
The total included 469 graduates receiving 627 associate degrees and certificates. Additionally, 176 noncredit certificates were awarded to 176 graduates through Continuing Education and Workforce Development.
Lombella addressed the graduates as a fellow â€śproud community college graduateâ€ť and first generation college student. â€śI hope that my path can be an inspiration for you and proof that the community college education is a solid foundation upon which you can build your dreams,â€ť he said.
He talked about how Tunxis has grown in recent years, including the opening this year of a new Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center and plans for a comprehensive Advanced Manufacturing Technology program.
â€śBut, we want to remind you,â€ť he told the graduates, â€śthat regardless of new furniture, fresh paint, and new buildings on our campus, we know that what is really important is on the inside - the nurturing environment for our students and the quality education and services that you all deserve.â€ť
To highlight the diversity of the graduating class, Lombella asked the graduates to stand if they are a veteran, the first person in your family to graduate from college, they have children or grandchildren, were born in another country, or have held a full-time or part-time job while they were a student at Tunxis. Virtually all of the graduates stood for one category or another.
â€śYou have all overcome challenges and barriers and our campus diversity is what makes Tunxis a place where we embrace our differences and learn from each other,â€ť he said, while urging them all to stay connected to the friends, faculty, and staff who have supported them during their time at Tunxis.
Valedictorian Danielle Dalena, a Unionville resident who received an associate in science degree in liberal arts and sciences, talked about how her time at Tunxis helped her learn to live with her anxieties.
â€śI would love to tell you a story about a girl who came into this situation terrified and fought against all odds and came out the other side to overcome her demons to become valedictorian, or something like that,â€ť she said. â€śThe problem is that, while that may be someoneâ€™s story, itâ€™s not mine.â€ť
She described how she almost couldnâ€™t walk into orientation when she started at Tunxis because there were so many people sitting in the room in Founderâ€™s Hall. When psychology professor Harriet Cianci approached her about giving a speech at commencement, Dalena said she had to fight her reflex to refuse.
â€śI wasnâ€™t even planning on walking in the graduation ceremony because I was too afraid to stand in front of people. So how was I supposed to not only stand in front of people and walk in front of them, but give them a speech?â€ť she said.
And yet there she was, on the stage giving that speech. The fear didnâ€™t got away, she said, but she realized â€śthe more you challenge yourself, the more you fight through the things that society, your family, your own brain and body tell you that you canâ€™t do, the more youâ€™ll realize that you can.â€ť
In one way or another, you have all done that, she told her fellow graduates. â€śYou fought back against fears and thatâ€™s whatâ€™s brought you here. You will have to fight against more.â€ť
â€śIâ€™m a better person than I was when I started at Tunxis. Iâ€™m a better friend. Iâ€™m a better daughter. Iâ€™m a better mentor than I was before I came into this. And I donâ€™t attribute this to some magical journey that changed me. I canâ€™t say that I was a broken little girl when I started college and I came out a strong intelligent woman,â€ť she said.
â€śWhat I can say is that I was scared then and Iâ€™m scared now, but I did it and Iâ€™m here and Iâ€™m proud of that.â€ť
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, also addressed the students.
Blumenthal called for Congress to work for making college debt-free, making sure men and women are paid the same for the same work, and that veterans receive the services they â€śneed and deserve.â€ť
He was particularly moved when Lombella asked those who graduates who were born in other countries to stand, he said. â€śWe always should remember that we are the greatest nation in the history of the world because we are a nation of immigrants.â€ť
Ojakian urged the graduates to commit to their journey through life and embrace its challenges. He condemned â€śrhetoric that tries to tear people down instead of building people up,â€ť and urged the graduates to â€śmake this world a better place for you having been part of it.â€ť
Andrew Albert, president of the Student Government Association, announced that the funds for the Class of 2018â€™s student gift would be donated to an honors program for researching how homelessness affects Tunxis students.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.