About 542 graduates ranging from 18 years old to 60-plus, of all ethnicities, moms, grandmothers, children – filled the courtyard at Tunxis Community College Friday to celebrate the college’s 41st commencement ceremony. For many, it was the fruit of hard work and a long journey.
“When I first walked through those doors… it was a means to an end,” explained Andrea Madison Farrell, Class of 2012 valedictorian. But as she continued at Tunxis, Farrell said she saw and gained much more than just a degree.
She began to see she was surrounded by a diverse group of people struggling, to seize opportunity and make the most of it.
“Some [students] were overcoming language barriers and conquering fears in the classroom. Others were working and raising families while taking classes whenever they could. There were even mothers so committed to finishing classes that they returned to school days after having their babies. These are the stories and many others that changed my perspective while at Tunxis,” Farrell said.
As a cloudy sky hung over the ceremony, children laughed and played on the grass or twirled in the aisles as administrators spoke. Family members embraced, wiped away tears and snuck out into the aisles to snap pictures as their grad crossed the stage.
Some of the graduates had been at Tunxis a short time. Others had walked the campus halls for years. But none had been part of the school community, President Cathryn Addy noted, for as long as Lea Lavoie, of Farmington, who began at 3 years old in the school’s preschool, returned to take classes at age 15 and now, with degree in hand, heads to UConn.
“There are quite a few of us who watched Lea Lavoie grow up and we are very proud of her today,” Addy said. “In my mind Lea Lavoie is the embodiment of the community college student.”
Lavoie spoke of the supportive community she found at Tunxis that held her up and cheered her on. A personal connection with faculty began in her first class on campus and continued on through graduation, she said.
“This [first] class changed my life by changing how I saw myself,” Lavoie said. “Here I rediscovered a learning community that was happy, positive and most of all respectful. It had been a long time since I’d been in this kind of classroom… we were expected to succeed in this class and we had fun doing it,” Lavoie said.
Faith was something she found at Tunxis that she didn’t sense in high school.
“There’s a lot more to a student's success than just academics. We can sense when expectations of us are low, we can see when our success is not supported. We also know that an educational environment that focuses on the needs and rights of individuals can go a long way to making sure students succeed.”
The college awarded hundreds of associates degrees and certificates to graduates all over the Farmington Valley. Graduates from Canton include:
- Peggy Bartholomew
- Ben Eytan
- Angela Fadgyas