HCC's award-winning Gateway to College program graduated 33 students Tuesday, the largest class in its nine-year history.
The Holyoke Community College Gateway to College program graduated the largest class in its nine-year history Tuesday afternoon, awarding certificates to 33 high school students who have been taking college courses at HCC.
Those students will now collect their diplomas from eight area high schools: Springfield, Holyoke, Westfield, Palmer, Longmeadow, Agawam, Minnechaug, and Belchertown. Between them the students also amassed a total of 372 transferable college credits, or enough to fulfill the requirements for more than six associate degrees.
"What you achieved is nothing short of miraculous," said Mark Guglielmo, the Gateway fine arts instructor and the keynote speaker for the graduation ceremony.
Gateway to College is a national program that takes high school dropouts or students at risk for dropping out and gives them the opportunity to earn their high school diplomas as dual enrolled college students.
"You gave us a second chance when you didn't have to," said student speaker Deborah Manus, who is from Holyoke. "This is the beginning of bigger and bigger things."
Guglielmo, a visual artist who was new to the program this year, told the students, their families and guests how impressed he was with the staff and how well Gateway works.
"The one ingredient that has me coming back is love," he said. "The adults responsible love these young people. It's so simple but so hard for so many."
The HCC Gateway to College program has consistently been one of the best performing Gateway programs in the country, earning top marks for G.P.A., and graduation and retention rates. For the second year in a row, the program has won the national organizations excellence award.
"Gateway helps to foster more success for students," said HCC President Christina Royal. "Look to your next milestone. Education is about lifelong learning. Consider continuing at HCC."
Many Gateway students do.
Since its founding in 2008, HCC's Gateway to College program has helped 251 students earn their high school diplomas while also getting an early start on college. More than half have continued onto college and so far 30 have earned their associate degrees from HCC and six have earned bachelor's degrees.
Six Gateway to College graduates earned their associate degrees from HCC on May 27.
"I told myself I had to change," said student speaker Lionel Resto, who is also from Holyoke. "What's behind me now is Gateway, pushing me forward. It feels natural for me to be here."
Among the other Gateway graduates were, from Springfield: Melanie Acevedo, Irelies Colon, Eimy Holguin, Ariana Perez, Ruddy R. Reynoso, Nathalia Rivera, Amanda Serrano, and Alyna Tirado; from Holyoke: Destinee Bailes, Zoe Bickford, Aisha T. Cruz, Julissa Figueroa, Hectsy Robles, J'Anthony Isiah Smith Sr., and Mannix Torres; from Westfield: Serena Boisvere, Elyza Colson, Desiree Morceau, Jordyn Newsome, Jackson Olin, and Marisa Rodriguez; from Palmer: Cora Boudreau, Destiny Champagne, and Aaron Palmer, from Longmeadow: Zackary Center, and Nathan Donnelly; from Agawam: Lindsey Pattenaude; from Belchertown: Kassandra Luna.
PHOTO by HANNAH WAREHAM: Gateway to College graduates shift their tassels from the right side of their caps to the left.