NECC Grads Encouraged to Seek Social Justice
“We all must show up, stand up, speak up, provide insight, and take meaningful, constructive, and intentional action to exercise the moral courage to engage others in this pursuit,” Bob Rivers, CEO of Eastern Bank told the Northern Essex Community College graduates and guests during the 57th Annual Commencement Ceremony under a white tent on the Haverhill campus quadrangle Saturday, May 18.
“In short, you must “aim high”, not only in your chosen field, but in your ideals, in your beliefs, and in your expectations of others and our society,” he said. “And if you happen to fall short, know that you – and our community and our country – will be so much further ahead, so much better, than if you had settled for what others might consider more reasonable expectations.”
Social equity and inclusion were the theme of the day as more than 1,100 associate degrees and certificates were awarded. The commencement proceedings opened with the national anthem sung by NECC alumna Carli Hamilton of Plaistow, N.H.
President Lane Glenn told the graduates, “Based on the education you received here and all of the hard work you have invested, you should be well prepared to transfer to a four-year college or university or to start your career—and also to make meaningful contributions to the world around you.”
He then proceeded to highlight a few NECC graduates who, he noted, in addition to being academically successful, “have proven to be exceptional individuals who are committed to making the world a better place.”
Public Health graduate Lucia Rondon were supported by local groups when her brother was killed during the September Merrimack Valley gas explosions. Grieving, she thought of quitting school, but was encouraged to complete her degree. She is now prepared to help her community by decreasing social disparities.
Katherine Hailson, who graduated with a liberal arts: writing option degree, came to NECC from Whittier Vo-Tech’s carpentry program where she developed an appreciation for issues around gender equity. As a member of the Contemporary Affairs Club, she found the confidence to take on the campaign of a local city council candidate and later other campaigns focusing on women’s health and workplace issues. She was this year’s recipient of the Newman Civic Fellow which recognizes community-committed students.
President Glenn also acknowledged Katelyn Richardson who already had a bachelor’s degree when she enrolled in NECC’s American Sign Language Studies Program. Soon she hopes to become a physician’s assistant who will work with the Deaf community. In fact, she was one of the interpreters for the event.
Student commencement speaker Yexis Hechavarria, a Cuban immigrant who arrived in the United States at 17 with very little command of the English language, spoke of growing up in a country where she had no computers, internet, calculators, or email. What she learned is that all you need is a human brain and a teacher or book to learn. As a result, Cuban children compete aggressively because jobs are limited. She used her work ethic to focus on learning English and excelling in high school and then college. She hopes to use her knowledge to become a doctor, like her parents, and cure rare diseases.
“What draws me to the medical field is the miracle of life. Our bodies are so complex that it’s a wonder we exist,” she said. “We are made of iron and oxygen, and other chemicals that are part of the soil and nonliving things, and yet we breathe and we walk and we talk and we feel. That is the most fascinating thing to me.”
She asked her fellow graduates, “What is it that excites you? Do you love to write? Is your passion caring for others? Do you get a kick out of solving a complex math problem? I hope all of you have found something that delights you as much as the complexity of the human body delights me. When you have a passion, it gives you a reason get up in the morning, a purpose in life.”
Here is her speech.
Rivers, the keynote speaker, who began his career as a bank teller and bank janitor, said he was honored and humbled to be asked to speak during a landmark occasion for so many.
In his lifetime and before, right in his own family, there have been instances of inequity. His mother’s family moved often priced out by rent increases. His mother, who was valedictorian of her high school class, was denied a four-year scholarship given to male valedictorians. His grandmother addressed the situation until she was given the same scholarship.
“Later in my life, it was my ex-wife who, when she decided to express her true sexual identity, was rejected by those closest to her,” he said.
After becoming a bank president by the age of 42, he recognized he could use his position to advance change and justice.
“Through many friendships and associations with those not of my own experience, I have come to more deeply and personally understand continued conditions that impede equal rights and opportunity in our society, and in the workplace,” he said. “As a person now of relative privilege in almost every way, I have come to recognize that I have an opportunity and indeed a responsibility to help drive necessary change and progress that has taken far too long to achieve.”
He encouraged the graduates to continue to make a difference.
“Given all that you’ve accomplished, through your perseverance and drive and sacrifice to be here today – among the most memorable of all of your days – I know you are better equipped than most to undertake this challenge,” he said.
Here is Rivers’s speech.
Rivers was awarded NECC’s inaugural Community Partner Award created to recognize people and organizations the college works with who are most valuable in helping the college accomplish its mission. President Glenn presented the award.
Another inaugural award was presented – the Social Justice Award. It was presented to Retired English Professor Dr. Paul Saint-Armand. The Social Justice Award recognizes individuals, groups, departments or initiatives that promote values such as a commitment to equity and diversity or the advancement of human rights and social justice. It will come with a cash prize of $1961—in honor of the year the college was founded—that will be used to enhance social justice initiatives.
Saint-Amand, a Vietnam-era veteran, is committed to peace and to supporting veterans. When he arrived at NECC 11 years ago, he brought with him the concept for the Peace Poetry Project – a contest for school and college-aged students to write poems about peace. To date, more than 12,000 original poems on peace have been submitted over 11 years.
He is also responsible for creating a Veterans Writing group for NECC students – a place where students who have served in the military could share their stories in a supportive and encouraging environment.
Glenn presented the award saying, “Paul, for all you have done to promote peace on this campus and in the community; to help ease the transition to college for veterans, and to promote community service and service learning…”
Four longtime members of the faculty and staff were awarded Emeritus status. At Northern Essex, the rank of emeritus is an honor that recognizes sustained excellence in performance, character, and meritorious service to the college.
Jane Gagliardi, of Gloucester, a clinical social worker and therapist for 25 years before joining the Human Services Faculty in 2001, she retired last year as the program coordinator.
“Jane brought this enthusiasm—and her real world experience—to every class she taught. She loved teaching and her students loved her,” Glenn said.
She was awarded Professor Emerita of Human Services.
Charlene Kennedy, of Richmond, N.H., along with her partner Susan Sanders was the face of NECC’s theater program for more than 30 years. In addition to teaching, Charlene directed two full-length shows each year, productions that ranged from Shakespeare to Broadway musicals.
“She also acted alongside her students, most famously in the college’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol” which she starred in and directed for 15 years,” he said. “Charlene’s legacy is the many Northern Essex graduates who are working professionally as actors, directors, stagehands, and costume designers.”
She was awarded Professor Emerita of Theater.
Joe Leblanc of Haverhill joined the English faculty at Northern Essex in 1988.
For more than a decade, he was faculty advisor to the Observer, NECC’s award-winning student newspaper and coordinator of the college’s Journalism Program.
“Joe was demanding but well loved and greatly respected,” said Glenn. “Under his leadership, the Observer received national and regional recognition.”
He was awarded Professor Emeritus of English.
“Karen Blanchard Mitchell was the first in her family to earn a college degree, and she devoted her career to helping other first generation students succeed in college,” said Glenn.
Mitchell of Bow, N.H., served first as an academic and career counselor and later as director of the federally funded student success PACE Program.
She was named Director Emerita of Pathways to Academic and Career Excellence.
George Moriarty, of Haverhill, the retired executive director of Corporate and Community Education, received the NECC Outstanding Alumni Award. It is presented to an NECC graduate who has achieved career-related success, is active in the community and/or has exemplified active support for the college’s efforts.
Floral arrangements were provided by Holland Flowers.
Musical selections were provided by members of the Stuart Highland pipe band.
HC Media live streamed the entire commencement ceremony so those not able to attend could watch.
Here is a list of the 2019 graduates by town.