'You earned this'

DATE: Tuesday, June 4, 2024

HCC celebrates class of 2024 at 77th Commencement

Nyasia Aguirre celebrates Commencement

A college diploma is not a gift, Holyoke Community College President George Timmons told soon-to-be graduates of the class of 2024. Nor is it something granted based on charm or sense of humor.

"No one owed you a favor," he said. "It was earned. By you and you alone. You put in the work, and we are here today to celebrate you."

President Timmons offered his remarks from the stage in the MassMutual Center arena during HCC's 77th annual Commencement, praising graduates for having the "audacity to dream big," setting goals – and achieving them.

"Dreaming big and setting goals does not end when you walk across the stage today," he said. "Today, you will begin to chart a new path. You will do so with lessons learned from your time at Holyoke Community College. There will, no doubt, be more obstacles along your journey. But I have absolute confidence that you will meet them with the same resilience, passion, and drive you developed while at HCC."

HCC awarded associate degrees and certificates to 709 graduates on Saturday, June 1. Graduates hail from 68 different Massachusetts cities and towns, states as far away as Florida and California, and countries including Russia, Chile, and Nepal.

In his faculty address, Jason Maurice, associate professor of psychology, gave graduates a micro-lesson on the Theory of Narrative Identity by personality psychologist Dan McAdams, who suggests that one's "life-narrative" is continually in flux, incorporating past, present and future.

"While everyone's situation is unique," he said, "all the graduates here will have their own stories about the struggles and sacrifices made for their education. Whether that's staying up all night to study for an exam, missing time with family to finish a paper, or retaking a particularly difficult class to get a better grade, you all have put in an immense amount of hard work and dedication, and, despite all of the setbacks, you did it."

The stories of graduates were one of the focal points of the ceremony, as two members of the class of 2024 took the stage to relate their own struggles.

Carineh Santana, of Holyoke, described the challenges of being a queer, Latina, first-generation college student while pursuing a career in engineering, a field dominated by white men.

"In many moments," she said, "I felt like I didn't belong. I felt intimidated that I wasn't as smart as everyone else."

With her associate degree from HCC complete, Santana will be moving on to the University of Massachusetts Amherst to pursue a bachelor's degree in engineering. She credited her family and HCC support programs TRIO, El Centro, and STEM Starter Academy with helping her overcome many challenges, which included a concussion that nearly derailed her college plans.

"And yet here I stand," she said. "Triumphant – that is what I am, here with you all, here with my supporters who pushed me to be the best version of me. Here with all my peers, professors, advisers, and family members, who helped me on my journey."

Liberal arts major Xinyan Jiang of Amherst, a Chinese immigrant who grew up in Philadelphia, said she was inspired by the sacrifices of her parents, "who arrived in the United States with nothing more than a handful of bills in their pockets and a relentless drive to provide a comfortable life for us."

Jiang worked long hours in an Amherst restaurant cleaning and waiting tables before she felt the urgency to apply to college and was rejected in her initial attempt to go to UMass. Instead, she enrolled at HCC and in September will be attending Amherst College, her dream school.

"We've strived and pushed forward despite challenges," she told her classmates. "The road ahead was not always so clear, but one thing was clear to us all: we are better with an education than without it."

PHOTOS: Members of the HCC class of 2024 celebate Commencement at the MassMutual Center in Springfield on June 1.