May 26, 2006
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
Jane Titarenko rushed with her elderly mother and her teenage son up the escalators of the Connecticut Convention Center, her white cap on her head and gown flowing, on the way to her graduation from Capital Community College Thursday.
The 46-year-old Canton resident who came to America as a Ukrainian refugee in 1991 was in a hurry, but not so rushed that she couldn't reflect on what she had to overcome to earn the right to wear that gown, and a degree in nursing.
"I have three kids," Titarenko said. "It's a challenge to take care of a family."
Titarenko's story of hard work and sacrifice was similar to those of many of her classmates.
Thomas James was thrilled as he watched his 39 year-old daughter, Marion E. James, accept the associate's degree that she had worked toward with diligence and sacrifice for about five years.
Marion James supported herself and paid her tuition bills, her father said. "It was her dream to become a nurse. I said the idea of a dream is one thing, but to achieve that dream is a whole lot of work. She put the work in."
But even with the grand ballroom filled with thousands of people, it is probably not an exaggeration to say that a 10-year-old girl sitting among her three younger sisters was one of the proudest people in the room.
Champagne Goldston was there to watch her mother, 30-year-old Brenda McClain of Hartford, accept her diploma.
"She's been through a lot of things," Champagne said of her mother. "She's been beaten up a few times as a kid. She was a foster child. She had to raise four kids by herself. No husband. No boyfriend. She became more stronger and she's been studying every day."
Champagne said that her mother inspires her to be strong and to take her studies seriously.
"I used to watch my mom cry sometimes. She tells us stories about how she didn't go to college. She keeps telling us the No. 1 thing in life that you need to get is your education. Before, when she didn't have these talks with me, I had bad grades. But now I have all A's and B's. I tell everybody, `My mom's going to college.' I think it's a really big thing. At times I say, `Well, I'm having fun, but I need to go to college. Big time.' College is No. 1."
As the ceremony began, Champagne helped her sisters sit still and concentrate. Then college President Calvin E. Woodland began to speak.
And wonder of wonders, as he looked out at the nearly 400 graduates and their families, he began to talk about Brenda McClain and the work she put in to support and care for her daughters while she studied for her associate's degree.
The girls screamed.
Woodland announced that McClain had earned a scholarship to go on to study for a bachelor's degree at Eastern Connecticut State University.
In his address later, commencement speaker Pedro E. Segarra, who was sworn in Monday as a Hartford city council member, offered a glimpse at the success that McClain and others like her can expect if they stick with their goals.
When he started at Capital about 30 years ago, he said, he didn't have any money, and "I could barely read and write."
Segarra worked hard with his nurturing teachers, he said, then went on to earn a bachelor's and a law degree. When he was sworn in as Hartford's corporation counsel he was the youngest person to hold the post, and now he has a private practice.
"You know," Segarra said, "there are students here that could keep pace with the best students at Harvard and Yale. But I would be extremely surprised if those Ivy League students could succeed in the face of some of the hardships that many of you have encountered. In due course, you will find that having overcome such adversity will be your greatest fortune - that getting through these painful situations that sometimes seemed unbearable, has made you stronger."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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