Emily Rivera didn't think she'd go back to school after she left Bulkeley High School when her daughter was born.
That was 13 years ago. Rivera proved herself wrong and on Thursday was one of 437 people to graduate from Capital Community College.
"And I'm not done yet," said the 28-year-old who dragged her daughter to classes with her. She now wants to go on to more school and, if all goes as planned, she'll open a diabetic bakery in West Hartford Center — a place where people like her parents could shop. "I've accomplished something."
After the more than 10-minute processional of students and their teachers into a ballroom at the Connecticut Convention Center, President Calvin Woodland told the graduates about their classmates like Rivera, praising them for working multiple jobs, raising children, and persisting in what more often than not was a few years to finish a two-year degree.
What they had accomplished, he said, was "no small thing."
Doris Arrington, dean of student services, took it further.
"You are here!" she said. "For some of you it may be two years, for others it may be 20, but you are here."
And here, she said, is a beginning, not an end. "The real purpose of education is so that you can make a difference in the lives of your family, your children, your parents, and your community," she said.
Speaker Kathleen Bolduc, the chief marketing officer at the Travelers Insurance Company, told the students of her own struggles with math, her commitment to education and her charge of individual determination.
"We all have two lives, the one we were born with and the one we choose to live every day," she said. She told them that "there is no failure in losing and that the only failure is in not picking yourself up again and giving everything you do your best."
Bobbett Johnson, 30, wasn't sure if she would walk the graduation walk. She finished her course work last December and has already started classes in accounting at St. Joseph College.
But then she thought again.
"I was like, 'Are you kidding? It took seven years to do this,'" Johnson said, standing next to one of her four children. "You know? This is a great accomplishment. I'm walking."
She wanted to set an example for her kids. "I want to see them look at me and think, 'You know what? I can do it,'" she said.
Jenna Cosker is a hairdresser, a waitress and the class salutatorian with a 4.0 grade average. She started at UConn and finished at Capital, a diverse school where she felt supported, and where she succeeded.
And now, like many others leaving Capital, she wants to go on, study more, and become a nurse.
In addition to the graduating students, the college awarded a posthumous degree to Jessica Rodriguez, a Capital student who was killed last year.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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