By her own account, HCC Professor Joanne Kostides was not a successful high school student. She spent more time hanging out in the parking lot than in class. Eventually, she dropped out, in February of her senior year.
But she earned her GED and then registered for classes at HCC. "There," she said, "I found a passion for education I never knew existed before."
To the 22 students who graduated from HCC's Gateway to College program on June 5, her story had a familiar ring. The program is for high school students at risk of dropping out. Through Gateway, they get a second chance. At HCC, they take college classes, earn college credits and work toward their high school diplomas.
After HCC, Kostides, a professor of Communication, Media and Theater Arts, transferred to UMass, where she earned both her bachelor's and master's degrees in communication.
"It doesn't matter where you start. It matters where you go," said Kostides, who gave the keynote address at the Gateway to College graduation ceremony in the Leslie Phillips Theater. "This is the face of a high school dropout, but this is where a high school dropout can go."
The 22 students come from Springfield, Holyoke, Longmeadow and Palmer. Together, they earned a total of 507 college credits, the equivalent of six associate degrees, said Vivian Ostrowski, director of the Gateway to College program. So far, 15 of them are enrolled at HCC for the fall semester.
The graduates are: From Springfield: Steven Banegas, Vincent Garcia, Donald Gorra, Alisha Hall, Nofar Hoffman-Mamane, Darius Johnson, Theodore Johnson, Talyn Munn, Jonathan Ortiz, Derik Rivera.
From Holyoke: Abigail Almeyda, Taylor Finn, Kelly Flynn, Zaid Matta, Alex Resto, Charlotte Sanchez.
From Longmeadow: Zachary Duffany, Yonatan Rubenstein.
From Palmer: Nicole Atkins, Jocelyn Granger, Chancellor McLeod.
"We have watched you grow and transform before our eyes," said Ostrowski. "You have touched us and we love you."Photos: (Left) Resource Specialist Jada Waters gives Gateway to College graduate Alex Resto a congratulatory hug. (Right) Gateway graduate Darius Johnson acknowledges the crowd. (Thumbnail) Student speaker Alisha Hall stands proud after the Gateway to College graduation ceremony.