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The Stories of Us: Creating Community Through Student Leadership

Submitted by on September 26, 2023 – 6:26 pm

This article is part of a regular series called “The Stories of Us,” highlighting the justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion work of Northern Essex Community College students, faculty, and staff.  

Northern Essex Community College student Elijah Antunes is the kind of person who sets a goal and sees it through. In the months leading up to graduation from Methuen High School, his goal was to go to Salem State University and graduate with a degree in economics. That was until the tuition bill arrived.

Elijah Antunes, SGA President 2023-2024

“It was almost $20,000. That was just impossible for me to pay, and I didn’t want to take out loans,” he remembers. “I was devastated. I had to backtrack and tell everyone I wasn’t going.”

Antunes soon realized that he could still reach his goal of attending a four-year college, but he would need to take a different path to get there. At the suggestion of his mother, an NECC Nursing alumna, he enrolled at Northern Essex Community College for the fall 2022 semester as a Business Transfer major.

“I saved up from working over the summer and paid my bill in full and that was such a relief,” he says, reflecting on how, when he was a toddler, his family struggled financially, even experiencing homelessness for a time. “It’s hard to raise yourself out of poverty, and it was almost surreal to think I wouldn’t have [student loan] debt tearing me down.”

Antunes was all in on NECC and immediately got to work to get the most out of his student experience. In his first semester, he campaigned and won a seat as the Vice President of the Student Government Association (SGA). This year, he is serving as the group’s president. He says his main objective is to help other students find their place at NECC.

“We did a lot of tabling events to speak to students. It’s one thing to plan behind closed doors; it’s another to get their voices. I also worked with President Lane Glenn and Chief Officer of Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Francellis Quinones to learn how to get students involved and feeling at home.”

One way to boost inclusion, says Atunes, is planning more events for students. In addition to weekly events and clubs, the SGA is hoping to host a cultural festival this spring. Atunes envisions students bringing food, music, and traditions from their cultures to share with the whole NECC community. The SGA is exploring fundraising opportunities to support the festival and has started outreach to grow its membership.

“Student government is an organization where you can get your voice heard. Students should be motivated and inspired. If they are interested in making a change, I encourage them to get involved and be disciplined. That’s what’s going to make the world a better place.”

The SGA meets twice a month on both the Haverhill and Lawrence Campuses and via Zoom. To learn more about the SGA and how to get involved, visit the webpage.