They wouldn't be here if they hadn't struggled in high school. They got through, though, by taking college-level classes instead. Now they have both their high school diplomas and a stack of college credits to their names.
HCC's Gateway to College program recognized 13 students Friday, June 7, at its 10th graduation ceremony. The event marked a major milestone for the program, its 100th and 101st graduates since it started at HCC in 2008.
"Sometimes our paths are met by barriers," said Susan Jones, a Foundations of Health teacher at HCC, community college graduate and guest speaker at the ceremony, which was held in HCC's Leslie Phillips Theater. "Overcoming those barriers makes the victory even sweeter. I think all of you have lived through that and can enjoy the fruits of your victory."
Gateway to College is a national program for students who have dropped out of high school or are at risk of dropping out. The premise is that these academically-able students can succeed in school by taking college classes. The program at HCC, one of 43 Gateway programs across the country, proves that they can.
This crop of 13 Gateway graduates hails from six districts: Holyoke (Alberto Febus and Awilmarie Rios), Palmer (Michael Hogan, Heather O'Connor and Nicole Riel), Springfield (Daniel Marti, Parris Porter, Josh Suero, Manual Vasquez and Jay washington), Longmeadow (Meghan Matthews), South Hadley (Payton Spinney) and Worthington (Raven Zeh).
Together they earned a total of 215 transferable college credits, or the equivalent of about 3.5 associate degrees. Two are raising children. Almost all of them will continue on to college in September.
Raven Zeh, the youngest among them, has a college GPA of 3.7.
"And I'm only 17 years old," the slight, redhead said at the ceremony, fighting through tears.
Jeffrey Hayden, vice president of Business and Community Service, talked to the students about defining their own measures of success.
"You can't measure how much water you have in a cup with a ruler," he said. "You can't measure distance with a measuring cup. That measuring tool you have in yourself, please make it and define it for yourself."
Photos: (Left) Joshua Suero, of Springfield, receives his diploma from Gateway to College coordinator Vivian Ostrowski. (Right) Gateway to College staff celebrate with new graduate Alberto Febus, of Holyoke. (Thumbnail) Raven Zeh, of Worthington, on the stage of HCC's Leslie Phillips Theater, during the Gateway to College graduation ceremony Friday.