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'Relentless Spirit'

DATE: Saturday, June 5, 2021

"You are part of an exraordinary HCC community, and when HCC is confronted with big challenges, we don't throw up our hands – we roll up our sleeves and look for solutions. – President Christina Royal

President Christina Royal delivers her remarks to the classes of 2020 and 2021 for Commencement.

Below is the full text of President Christina Royal's introductory remarks to the classes of 2020 and 2021 for Commencement 2021. Her speech was recorded in advance on the stage of HCC's Leslie Phillips Theater for inclusion in the virtual ceremony on June 5.

Greetings and congratulations to our amazing class of 2020 and our incredible class of 2021 and your beloved family and friends. A virtual greeting as well to the Holyoke Community College Board of Trustees, our faculty, staff, alumni, and all members of the HCC community joining us today.

To the classes of 2020 and 2021, congratulations! You have accomplished something amazing during one of the most significant times in our world's history. It is my great pleasure to share this moment with you, a moment that celebrates not only an important milestone in your lives, but the resilience and determination you have demonstrated through a truly unbelievable time. 

In March of 2020 your academic lives, and actually your entire lives, were up-ended as COVID-19 became an international health crisis and forced us to transition to remote teaching and learning. Our HCC campus went from a vibrant community of students and employees full of in-person interactions and activities and sports to empty hallways. It was different. And then you adjusted. Soon thereafter, faculty learned new techniques for teaching remotely. Staff learned how to support you at a distance, you learned how to navigate new platforms, and your physical classroom was replaced with Zoom meetings and Moodle sites and chat rooms. You found creative ways to stay connected, like playing online Pictionary with your peers. You found ways to express yourself, academically, through a webcam on your computer and you found ways to support each other, recognizing that we are all in this together. You went through personal struggles, professional struggles, and academic struggles.

We collectively experienced a challenging presidential election, unprecedented natural disasters, and a nation grappling with racial injustice. There were high moments and low moments and a whole lot of uncertain moments. But you kept going. And that is why you're here today, because you kept going. 

I believe that your classes, the HCC classes of 2020 and 2021, will be recorded in history as two of the most extraordinary classes of Holyoke Community College graduates. In the midst of earning your degree, you had to pivot to completely different modes of learning. And you did so successfully. You faced uncertainty with compassion and perseverance, and you pushed forward with a relentless spirit. You possess what it takes to keep optimism alive. Even in the darkest times, to presume, and to expect the very best of others, and to not only remember our shared humanity, but to act on it.

Our communities and our world need not only your talent, but also your thought, your insight, your courage and your compassion. With these qualities, and with HCC as your foundation, I am confident that you can do anything. Making the sudden switch to remote learning was a significant and, I know, painful adjustment. Well, I'm gratified at how well you've handled the challenge. I'm not surprised. You are part of an extraordinary HCC community. And when HCC is confronted with big challenges, we don't throw up our hands – we roll up our sleeves and look for solutions. That's always been part of who we are.

This year, as Holyoke Community College celebrates its 75th anniversary, we look back at our history and marvel at the ways in which it has made us who we are today. HCC was founded on a simple but powerful belief that everyone deserves a chance to pursue and achieve a college education – everyone: soldiers returning for military service, women entering the workforce for the first time after raising families, high school students seeking an affordable pathway to a bachelor's degree, older adults seeking new careers, and anyone who has ever been told that they weren't college material. 

Like you, each student who came before you found their voice and their passion at HCC. I hope you will draw inspiration from them, as you look toward your future: 

For instance, Ugo Iyeh grew up in Nigeria, the son of uneducated parents. With discipline, a work ethic instilled in him by his father, and some scholarship support, Ugo earned his associate degree in nursing in 2014 and since then has been working in Western Massachusetts as a registered nurse, specializing in home healthcare. 

A self-professed flunkie in high school, David Gruel, class of 1991, worked two jobs while attending HCC as a full-time student. Giving up would have been easy, but, instead, David persisted with the support of HCC faculty and staff. Today, he's the lead engineer on NASA's rover mission to Mars. 

More recently, and hopefully celebrating today Samary Ramos, class of 2020, left school in the eighth grade. In her 30s. Samary's reintroduction to school came through HCCs HiSET program, where she earned her high school equivalency, then joined Transition to College and Careers, HCC's free college preparatory program. The 36-year-old Springfield resident completed her studies at HCC last spring, earning high honors and her associate degree in Visual Arts. 

And, finally, born and raised in Puerto Rico, Alexandra Santiago, class of 2021, relocated to Holyoke with her family after Hurricane Maria. Getting involved in college programs, leadership opportunities and volunteering in her community helped Alexandra overcome feelings of hopelessness and uncertainty. Today, she becomes the first HCC student in our 75-year history to graduate with an associate degree in Latinx Studies. 

Today, you add your story to these. Your story becomes part of HCC's past, present and future, and you inspire the next generation of HCC students. 

There is no question that the last 18 months have been difficult, and the losses have been profound. The time that was taken from you was beyond your control. What you take from it, however, that is up to you. You know what perseverance looks like. You've lived it. You know how to walk through difficulty with fortitude and grace, and I'm truly inspired by you. I look forward to seeing your story unfold.

These are uncertain times in many ways, but I feel so much more confident about our future, simply by knowing that you will be part of it. For today, though, I hope that you celebrate. You have achieved something remarkable. 

Congratulations to each and every one of you.