For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, two Northampton Community College (NCC) Commencement Ceremonies were held in-person on the Bethlehem campus. Winter graduates were honored on May 25 followed by Spring graduates on May 26.
More than 1,300 students, 62 with a perfect 4.0 GPA, graced the stage over the course of the two nights as family, friends, faculty and staff watched with pride. The diverse group of graduates ranged in age from 19 to 71 and represented 20 different countries and 11 states.
Associate English Professor, Erik Grayson, and Nursing Professor, Mali Bartges, served as commencement marshals for winter and spring commencements respectively, opening and closing each ceremony. Winter graduate, Alyssa Foli, and spring graduate, Justin Abarca, enthusiastically sang our national anthem and the beloved NCC alma mater.
The remarkable perseverance of the Class of 2022 was highlighted on both evenings, as it was obvious that the challenges over the past two years did not stop these graduates from reaching their goals.
Bob Fehnel, chairman of the Northampton Community College Board of Trustees, welcomed the audience, warmly sharing, “To all the family, friends and loved ones that are able to join us today, I know you share in the pride we all have today as you have witnessed the sacrifice, determination, and commitment demonstrated by your graduate to get here.”
NCC President Dr. Mark Erickson stressed to graduates, “at a pivotal moment in our country’s history, we need you. Your leadership, your spirit, your persistence, and resilience.”
Erickson shared inspiring stories of several graduates at both ceremonies, highlighting their triumphs over obstacles to reach graduation day — students like Tyrel Yearwood, who lost loved ones to the pandemic but still pursued his passion, Brenda Santiago-Vazquez who struggled to homeschool her child while attending NCC, and Amandaly Alvarez who had to withdraw from NCC after a car accident and came back stronger than ever, finally able to attend and graduate.
Rebecca Docteroff, All-PA Academic Team member, Coca-Cola Silver Scholar, and winter commencement student speaker acknowledged the strength of her peers. “This was an abnormally difficult time amidst pandemic era learning. The class that stands before me has rigor and drive. We accomplished something huge today.” She added, “Savor every moment and treasure your journey moving forward.”
NCC spring graduate, Lucas Wolk, related to the room full of his peers by telling them, “If you would’ve told me two years ago that I’d be graduating tonight, after what unfolded between then and now, I wouldn’t believe you. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way.”
Wolk chose to see the silver lining outlining the challenges we face in society today. “’Unprecedented’. I’m sick of that word’s negative connotations. It’s mass shootings, quality control, political divisiveness, covid, but with all of that, you are sitting here, and that’s what I think is unprecedented.”
Dr. Judith Buenaflor, recently retired English professor and cherished member of the NCC family, gave the 420 winter graduates hope during her faculty address.
“Learning, thinking and questioning in the classroom has taught you how to keep learning, thinking and questioning in the world. Your education has given you the ability to explore your ideas, and where these ideas can lead you – is exciting to think about.”
The following evening, Robert Hayes, NCC’s professor of journalism, advised the vast audience of nearly 900 graduates at the spring ceremony, “Use your critical thinking skills to discern the real from the fake. Let ideals not ideology guide you. Let accurate information and your informed opinion contribute to the greater good.”
During his final two commencement ceremonies at the College before his retirement, Erickson said in a bittersweet moment, “like you, I too am commencing, embarking on the next chapter in my own journey. I will, accordingly, always remember this class, the great class of 2022, as my class. Together we journey into the world with new hopes, plans, and aspirations.”
Erickson left the graduates with some sage advice — develop strong relationships, find mentors, take risks without fear of failing, and love what you do. “Embrace life, and it will embrace you back, sometimes with a bear hug that will literally leave you breathless,” he remarked.
Graduates were welcomed into our prestigious alumni association by Bruce Palmer ’77, vice chair of NCC’s Board of Trustees, “I cannot begin to tell you how important it is to stay connected to NCC”. Erickson echoed the sentiment saying, “you joined NCC as students, but you leave as alums…forever connected to this place as members of the Northampton family and alumni network with nearly 50,000 members. So stay in touch.”
Palmer went on to present spring graduate, Kiondre Kenner, with the Trustee Leadership Award. The award is given to the student for exceptional leadership and service, a highest honor at NCC.
Each event concluded with overwhelming cheers and applause as the proud graduates and their family and friends celebrated their achievements. Check out the rest of the photos featuring winter and spring 2022 grads! See more winter commencement photos in the Morning Call.