HCC's Gateway to College program celebrated its largest graduating class ever Monday, with 25 students from Amherst, Palmer, Holyoke and Springfield earning their certificates of completion and their high school diplomas.
Gateway to College is a national program that takes students who have failed out of high school or are at risk for failing out and puts them in college classes. Gateway students earn their high school diplomas and collect college credits.
"All the students here either had a tough time or failed out in high school," said student speaker Desrianna Perez, from Springfield. "Gateway was not a walk in the park. I could go on about our struggles, but that doesn't matter anymore. Everyone who said we couldn't do it - we proved them wrong."
HCC's Gateway to College program was recently recognized as having the highest retention and graduation rates of all 43 Gateway to College programs.
The Spring 2014 report from the National Network of Gateway to College lists HCC's program number one in both fall-to-fall retention rate (87 percent) and graduation rate (80 percent) for the 2011-2012 academic year. The network average was 53 percent for retention and 27 percent for graduation.
Monday's Gateway class was HCC's 11th since 2008. So far, 141 students have earned their high school diplomas through HCC's Gateway to College program.
The June 2014 class includes one student from Amherst (Mario Merida Cardenas); three from Palmer (William Jameson, Jaymelee Riel, and John Dwyer); five from Holyoke (Luis Ramos, Trevor Stevenson, Jake Lemieux, Joshua Delisle-Manners, and Matthew Wojnar); and 16 from Springfield (Alexander Aberdale, Arrian Brantley, Bianca Colon, Krysteen Cruz, Mariah Kelley, Caitlin Lugo, Autumn Mathieu, Taran Morse, Desriana Perez, Natasha Perez, Kelsie Ramos, Sulenys Rivera, Berychaina Rivera-Nevarez, Shaquawn Ross, Courtney Sanders, and Deborah Santiago).
The Gateway Class of June 2014 leaves HCC with a total of 387 college credits.
"This is an amazing and delightful group," said Gateway director Vivian Ostrowski. "We have watched you grow and transform before our eyes, shifting from high school students into college students."
Keynote speaker Gaylord Saulsberry, HCC adjunct professor of history and former Amherst schools superintendent, talked about asking students to make a list of unproductive behaviors (for ex. laziness and impatience) on the first day of his class. That list was ceremoniously burned.
He quoted Eleanor Roosevelt ("Do something every day that scares you to death.") and handed out bookmarks ("Pride + Achievement = Success") to symbolize the place Gateway graduation holds in the great novel of their lives.
"Your next chapter is waiting to be written," he said. "Make it a masterpiece."
Click here to check out Gateway graduation photos on Facebook.
Photos: (Left) Desriana Perez, of Springfield, who gave the student address, receives her certificate of completeion from Gateway to College director Vivian Ostrowski.(Right) Newly minted Gateway to College graduates flip their tassels in a last rite of passage.