Dr. David A. Ruth

Class of 2023, I commend you for your hard work, grit and determination that has led you this moment today, your graduation! 

These sentiments from Northampton Community College (NCC) President, Dr. David A. Ruth, were echoed throughout the morning as loved ones, esteemed guests, and NCC faculty and staff gathered in the Bethlehem Campus Spartan Center to honor NCC’s Winter Class of 2023. The commencement ceremony was held on a sunny January 28, foreshadowing a bright future ahead for these graduates. 

More than 516 students, 26 with a perfect 4.0 GPA, graduated in the winter class, many of whom graced the stage as faculty and administration who taught and mentored them watched with pride. The diverse group of graduates ranged in age from 18 to 72, hailing from Tennessee to Japan and many places in between. 

Serving as the commencement marshal, Catherine Kehler, advisor at NCC, opened and closed the ceremony. Class of 2022 graduate, Alyssa Foli, graced the audience with her beautiful voice as she sang the National Anthem and NCC Alma Mater. 

A moment of silence was observed for all first responders, including the late and honorable Marvin Gruber, assistant chief of Public Safety at NCC, who gave his life in the line of duty while serving as a volunteer firefighter with the New Tripoli Fire Department.  

Marv had been a fixture at NCC for 22 years, and he was at each commencement during that time,” said Ruth. 

Bob Fehnel
Bob Fehnel

Bob Fehnel, chairman of the NCC Board of Trustees and 1975 graduate of NCC, welcomed the audience, sharing, “My NCC degree has served me very well and has been the foundation of a successful career that has flourished and a rewarding life that has been filled wonderful things. I wish for the same for each of you as you go forth into the world empowered with your NCC education.” 

“This graduating class is a special group of students who are ready for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead,” Dr. Ruth said proudly. “I have no doubt they will make their mark on this community, this country, and this world.” 

Ruth shared stories of several graduates, highlighting their achievements and perseverance to reach graduation day — students like Drake Brackett, a leader on the Spartans soccer team with hopes of becoming a police officer, Judy Ortiz, who battled addiction and breast cancer as she made her way to the finish line, Hector Hernandez, the first blind person to graduate from the massage therapy program, and Katrina Danyluk, a multi-media major who is also a stunt performer! 

Winter Class of 2023 graduate and this commencement’s student speaker, Lauren Harrison, acknowledged the strength of her peers. “Relationships are hard, work is hard, school is hard, life is hard, but look at what you’ve done.” She took a minute to ask her fellow graduates to congratulate the people they were sitting by in the audience. Then, she told them to think of someone who’s been a mentor or by their side through this journey, and she said, “show gratitude for those who encouraged and supported you.” Lastly, but most importantly, she said “congratulate yourself!” recognizing how important it is to “look in the mirror and see your success.” 

Dr. Jim Von Schilling, English professor, talked about how students can apply life lessons to their community as they go out into the world. “A community college brings together diverse people working towards common goals, to learn, achieve and succeed. We’re all in on it here, students, faculty and staff. No one wants to hold anyone back. Our differences are treated in a positive way, as points to discuss and learn from. Let’s listen, accept, support, encourage and assist in our community because that’s what you learned to do here.” 

Kassie Hilgert
Kassie Hilgert

Commencement speaker, Kassie Hilgert, CEO and President of ArtsQuest, was full of practical advice for the graduates. First, she said, “Get ready for negativity, and get ready to ignore it. Negativity is nothing but fear. You will be told you can’t more than you’ll be told you can. You’ll even tell yourself no before anyone else does.” 

“Be mindful of the negativity and practice the power of positive thinking.” Hilgert advised, relating this to her own negative thoughts. “What if I failed,” she thought before her success came. Throughout her journey, she taught herself to get back up even after those failures. “Success comes from getting up more than you fall down. Babies fall down, and they keep getting up until they don’t fall down anymore.”  

Hilgert wanted the graduates to know that, “Talent is not the sole indicator that determines success. The secret is persistence and passion. There’s a name for this, and it’s called grit.” She told the audience that education gives you skills, but the effort you expend matters more.  

Hilgert also stressed the importance of taking time to find out what type of leader you are now. Practice those skills because, “You may be a project leader for a time or a CEO, but a good leader leads from above, and a great leader leads from within.” 

After Hilgert addressed the audience, Nicole Dusovic, studying communication design at NCC, received the President’s Commencement Scholarship in Kassie Hilgert’s honor. 

Presentation of Scholarship
Nicole Dusovic, Kassie Hilgert, Dr. David A. Ruth

This year, the College invited recent GED and ESL program graduates to participate in winter commencement, and Dr. William Schaffer, director for the Center for College & Career Readiness, presented those program graduates.  

The Spartan Center filled with overwhelming cheers and applause as remainder of the proud graduates moved across the stage, and their loved ones celebrated this milestone.

At the closing of the ceremony, graduates were welcomed into our prestigious alumni association by Madeline Collis Falcone, assistant director of events & engagement at United Way of the Lehigh Valley, and a member of the Class of 2010. A tearful Falcone, moved by the gravity of what lies ahead for these graduates, said, “I grew up here. As a kid, I was in Horizons for Youth, and in high school I took SAT prep classes. I also studied here in college. I’ve continued to come back to take yoga classes, CPR classes, cooking classes and more. I share this because there’s something special about a place like this that can gather people at different times in their life. As you begin the next stage in your lives, I ask that you remember NCC and come back to take a class or two.”  

Falcone officially welcomed the class of 2023 to the alumni association as they shifted their tassels from the right to the left side of their caps. 

Check out the photos featuring some of our Winter Class of 2023 graduates!