More than 900 degrees and certificates were awarded to graduates at Manchester Community College’s 51st annual commencement ceremony Thursday, May 28.
Daniela Pelayo, of Duluth, Minn., by way of Vernon, Conn., is the Class of 2015 valedictorian, earning an associate in science degree in general studies. A native of Mexico City, she attended high school in Duluth where the rest of her family resides. She will continue her education in Minnesota in order to pursue her dream of becoming a physical therapist. Unable to attend the commencement ceremony due to a recent death in her family, through a statement she thanked the MCC faculty and staff for making her educational experience a remarkable one.
“Your commitment to students’ success was a great incentive to dedicate many hours of study in your classes. I am extremely proud of the level of education that I and all of my fellow graduates received at MCC. We gained a strong foundation that will allow us to continue to reach for success and excellence,” her statement said.
The Class of 2015 salutatorian is Aida Huric, of Hartford, who was awarded an associate in science degree in accounting and business administration. Huric began her academic career at MCC in Fall 2013, just nine years after moving to the United States from Bosnia. Before starting her academic career at MCC, she studied German language and literature in Bosnia. She will be transferring to CCSU in the fall to pursue her bachelor of science degree in accounting in hopes of becoming a CPA.
Dr. Pamela Trotman Reid, president of the University of St. Joseph, delivered the commencement address. Dr. Reid became the eighth President of the University of Saint Joseph (formerly Saint Joseph College) in January, 2008. Since taking office she has worked to build upon the University’s reputation for academic excellence and ensure its commitment to integrity, women’s leadership, and service. She initiated and successfully launched the University’s first professional doctoral program by creating a School of Pharmacy in downtown Hartford, a move that has garnered widespread acclaim from the Greater Hartford community. Under her leadership, the size of the graduate program in education tripled with the introduction of off-site classes throughout Connecticut; the program for adult learners was refocused; and undergraduate women’s programs have gained increased recognition for excellence and student success.
Heather Winter ’14, now a student at the University of Connecticut, gave the distinguished alumnus address and admitted that she had adjustment problems moving to the larger school. She reminded graduates never to give up.
“On my first day (at UConn) I came to an old railroad track bearing graffiti that read, ‘free yourself from this.’ I drove by this sign every day, pondering its meaning. In time, I came to the realization that I had to free myself from the doubts I had about my own abilities,” she said. “It was within my power to bridge the gap from the successes I had at MCC to the struggles I faced at UConn. And that’s when the world really opened up to me.”
Raymond F. “Sonny” Damato was honored with a posthumous associate degree in humane letters honoris causa for his life-long dedication to the town of Manchester. Damato was a devoted businessman, family-man and for more than 80 years he dedicated his life and business to improving the quality of life in Manchester. Having served on the boards of many local organizations and having been a philanthropic supporter, he helped to shape Manchester into the town it is today.
Other awards that were presented during the ceremony included the Regional Advisory Council’s Award, which was presented to Eric Jenkins, of Ellington, Conn. Jenkins has been involved with MCC’s student-run radio station, ICE Radio since 2013. He has interned for one semester, has been the secretary for the club for two semesters, and even served as the station’s president. During his last semester, he was an advocate for helping Broadcast Performance students create music shows and encourage others to get their voices heard. He is also the recipient of three MCC Foundation scholarships, the Richard A. Dana award for excellence in communications, and had the opportunity to help out with various commercials for Manchester Community College and American Eagle Credit Union. He is planning to take a few more classes at MCC and to start helping shape the radio station’s programming for another semester as it prepares to flip the switch on an FM signal, 103.3 WICT. After the fall semester, he plans on transferring to Central Connecticut State University.
Brittany Bard, of Vernon/Rockville, received the President’s Student Award. Bard, who was born three months premature, has overcome any and all challenges that have come her way. She has faced many physical and emotional hurdles due to her early childbirth. A 2012 graduate of Rockville High School, Bard –because of her disabilities – was the victim of severe hazing and bullying during her K – 12 career. She has also endured being homeless on a number of occasions. Despite these challenges, she remains a determined young woman and continues to be successful and will be attending Eastern Connecticut State University in the fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry. Her dream is to one day be a biochemist – a dream whose possibility she attributed to MCC.