'HCC prepared me'

DATE: Saturday, June 5, 2021

"Despite the pandemic, we pulled through and showed the world that no obstacle can stand in the way of our success." – Tugce Kuruca '21

Graduating HCC student Tugce Kuruca delivers her speech for Commencemen6 2021 from the stage of HCC's Leslie Phillips Theater

Tugce Kuruca '21 is an immigrant from Turkey who started at HCC in 2017 as a student in the college's English as a Second Language Program. A member of the Student Senate, Green Key Honor Society and other campus groups, she graduated June 5 with honors and her associate degree in liberal arts. Tugce was selected as the student speaker for Commencement 2021. She delivered the remarks below from the stage of the Leslie Phillips Theater. Her speech was recorded in advance for inclusion in HCC's virtual Commencement on June 5, 2021.

Good morning, everyone.

On behalf of the graduating class of 2021, I would like to welcome all faculty, staff, alumni, friends, family, and distinguished guests to the 2020 and 2021 Commencement of Holyoke Community College. 

My name is Tuğçe Kuruca. I am an immigrant and a first-generation college student. If you would have told me when I first started school at HCC that I would be standing before you today giving this speech, I would have thought that to be the most unimaginable thing possible. Living in the slums of Istanbul, Turkey, barely having the means for the next meal, coming to America was a dream that could only be found in a fairytale. 

In 2016, I left my mother and everything I knew in life behind to attend school in the United States. Suddenly, I was in the U.S., and I was starting American high school as a senior with no English whatsoever - clueless, not knowing anything around me, but I did not let myself be lost in that mystery of the new world I was living in. I studied and studied and cried and cried. Living in the U.S. without my mother, friends, and everything that I knew was very difficult. I would cry and stay up all night trying to talk to my mother and friends in Turkey. I often questioned my decision to leave and considered giving up and moving back many times, but now I know that all the hardships were worth it. 

After graduating high school with honors, in 2017, I started my college journey in HCC's ESL program. I struggled many times because I knew that I had to work harder than an English speaker. Although I was scared, I wasn't afraid of failure because now I knew what success looked like.  I knew that I had great faculty and staff who made sure I got the help that I needed. I would study all day, eventually taking Learning Communities and Honors courses. I am a proud ESL student because the ESL Program is what got me here today. 

I can proudly say that I've created a strong family not only within the ESL Program but also the Pathways Program, TRIO Student Support Services, the Green Key Honor Society, and the Student Senate. Each of these programs has played a critical role in my academic success, and I would not be standing here today without their help. They became more than just academic programs to me because I cried with them, laughed with them, was rooted on by them, and inspired by them. 

I am so excited for the next step. I can't wait to transfer and then go to law school. It has always been my dream to become a lawyer and, eventually, a judge. I know I can do it, and I can make it because HCC prepared me very well. 

I wish HCC was a four-year school. As a student, I consider HCC to be my home, and I know it is home to many others. HCC is truly an inclusive campus that welcomes people from all walks of life: immigrants, parents, people with all kinds of abilities, the LGBTQ community, veterans, and anyone who wants an education. No matter where you are coming from, what language you speak, or what gender you identify with, HCC is for everyone. 

Before I conclude, I must say thank you (tesekkur ederim ) to the mother who worked day and night to make sure that my brother and I ate and slept well to make sure that we were educated. As a single mother, she did the impossible to make sure I could be here today. 

My fellow graduates, we made it! To be sure, this is not a normal graduation, but we must celebrate ourselves and what we accomplished despite it seeming like the world was coming to an end. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us lost close family members, our homes, and others, everything they had to this evil illness. However, despite teh pandemic, we pulled through and showed the world that no obstacle can stand in the way of our success. I want to congratulate you, my peers, and by all means this is no ordinary congratulations. This is a deep, extraordinary, well-deserved congratulations! 

As Nelson Mandela said, "Do not judge me by my success. Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again." 

Let the record show how many times we fell, yet stood up strong and ready to fight. 

Thank you. (seni cok seviyorum annecim)

PHOTOS by CHRIS YURKO: Tugce Kuruca delivers her Commencment 2021 address from the staget of HCC's Leslie Phillips Theater.