Melissa Denoncourt and her family were celebrating her 17th birthday on June 1, 2011, when a tornado struck their Monson home.
"We had just taken the cover off the cake," her mother, Cheryl Denoncourt, recalled last week.
The windows exploded. The front door blew out. Glass and furniture flew all around. A pipe hit Melissa in the head. She and her mother, who were unable to make it down to the basement with the rest of the family, had X cuts on their arms from flying glass.
"The cake was up on the ceiling and up the stairs," said Melissa.
Melissa's 18th birthday celebration Friday proved to be a much happier event. That day, June 1, 2012, she also graduated from Monson High School. She plans to attend Holyoke Community College in September, the burden of tuition relieved by a scholarship she received for victims of the June 1, 2011, tornado.
"My mom had tears in her eyes when I showed her the award," Melissa wrote in a thank you letter to HCC. "She would never admit it to me, but I sensed the award was needed more than I knew."
Last Thursday, on the eve of the first anniversary of that devastating storm, HCC President William Messner and Erica Broman, executive director of the HCC Foundation, presented scholarship awards to Denoncourt and 13 other current and future HCC students affected by the tornado.
"Congratulations, it's always great to give out money," said President Messner. "My hunch is all of you can use a few extra bucks in your accounts. We're delighted to celebrate with you."
The scholarships were made possible by anonymous donation to HCC through the Tides Foundation to help students who suffered financial hardship as a result of the tornado.
Receiving awards ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 were, from Springfield: Chanel Allen, David Benvenutti, Sheila Diodonet, Malah Fish, Clarence Hill, Brian Rodriguez, and Tracy Viola; from Monson: Michelle Aucoin, Kelly Couture, Melissa Denocourt, and Ashley King; and, from West Springfield: Sisters Devi and Lakishima Adhikari, and Karen Pasquale.
Couture said the scholarship award couldn't have come at a better time.
"We've spent a lot of our own money waiting for insurance," said Couture, who lives in Monson with her husband and three children. "It'll help cause I won't have to use my own money for school."Photos: (Left) HCC students Kelly Couture, of Monson, receives a congratulatory handshake from HCC President Bill Messner. (Right) Tornado relief scholarship winners attend a reception in honor of their awards on Thursday, May 31.