HARTFORD —— The crowd in the vast auditorium of the Connecticut Convention Center knew to expect something special Thursday evening when Capital Community College's jazz band launched into a swinging version of "Pomp and Circumstance," featuring drum and piano solos.
The band played for 22 minutes as the faculty and 520 graduates of the class of 2013 paraded in the football field-sized room before cheering family and friends.
And that was just the beginning.
Capital Community College has been called the most culturally diverse college in New England and the energy of many hometowns could be felt throughout the school's 66th commencement ceremony.
"Bienvenedi!" Pedro Valentin, associate professor of art, welcomed the graduates, encouraging them to paint their hopes and dreams on the "blank canvas" they now possessed.
Valedictorian Saheli Datta, who came to the U.S. from India, said the diversity of the student body made her feel at home.
"We were students from many different cultural backgrounds and coming from all over the world, studying under the same roof," she said. She said she plans to go to the University of Alabama.
A moving personal story was told by keynote speaker James Morton, president and CEO of the Hartford YMCA, who spoke of enduring racism and discrimination in the Midwest of the 1950s. With a black father and a white mother, Morton was taunted at school by classmates who called him "half-breed."
I had almost weekly fights in the fifth and sixth grade," Morton said. "I constantly went to school with black eyes and bruises on my face."
Listening intently in the crowd was Joyce Blake, whose son, Alffe Ricardo Blake, 41, was graduating with a degree in criminal justice. Joyce Blake, a single mother originally from Jamaica, said she worked 30 years as a nurse's aide to put food on the table and make sure her children had a home.
"They said he couldn't do it, but I knew that he could," she said of her son. "I am so proud."
Capital Community College was established in 1992, by a legislatively mandated merger of Greater Hartford Community College, founded in 1967, and Hartford State Technical College, founded as the Connecticut Engineering Institute in 1946.
The school, now located in the old G. Fox Building in downtown Hartford, has enrolled about 263,000 students since 1969 and has awarded 12,622 degrees and certificates.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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