Menu button
Home » Commencement 2024, Mobile

From Early College Promise Scholar to 2024 Student Commencement Speaker

Submitted by on April 22, 2024 – 5:54 pm

Akira Matos of Haverhill will be the featured student speaker for the 62nd annual commencement exercises at Northern Essex Community College. The ceremony will occur on Saturday, May 18, on the Haverhill Campus at 11 am.

Biology major Akira Matos is the 2024 student commencement speaker.

Just a few years ago, the biology major didn’t imagine she’d be graduating from college at all, let alone be the person selected to represent her class at commencement. Matos says she was not a good student in grade school and bounced around to a few local schools as a result. When it came time for high school, her mom pushed for her to go to Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School, even though she might not have had all her facts straight.

“My mom tricked me,” Matos remembers with a laugh. “She told me they had a pool! So I told the admissions people how excited I was for swim team, and they told me they didn’t have one.”

Despite the absence of a swim team, Matos enrolled at Whittier and decided to specialize in metal fabrication. She did well in those classes, even winning second place in her district in the Skills USA competition. She was still struggling in some of her academic classes when she decided to try a different approach. In the fall of her junior year, she took English as an Early College class at NECC and discovered that the different pace and expectations suited her. She ended up with a B+ in the class.

“It was difficult but also a bit more relaxed. I expected to do a lot of writing- and I did. It was good for me. I felt like I could work more at my own pace.”

By the time she graduated from high school, Matos had earned 18 college credits through Early College classes at NECC and was selected to speak at the Early College recognition ceremony.

Through all of this, she still wasn’t sure college was in her future. She explains that her parents weren’t pushing her to go, either. Her father grew up in Cuba, where college wasn’t a possibility and, therefore, not a priority in his life. Her mother was eager for Matos to have the financial security of a career in welding right out of high school.

“Up until I graduated from high school, I was insisting I wasn’t going to go to college. I didn’t think I could do it or afford it,” Matos says. However, Whittier’s Early College coordinator changed her mind by explaining that she could continue at Northern Essex for free under the NECC Promise Program, which covers the costs of tuition, fees, and supplies for Early College students who qualify.

Suddenly, a new world of possibilities presented itself to Matos. Having witnessed changes in her own eyesight due to her time welding– “seriously, everyone in my specialty graduated with the same prescription”– Matos decided she wanted to become an ophthalmologist. She enrolled at NECC as a biology major in the fall of 2022.

“I forgot how much I really like science; I had always turned away from it. The classes were a little scary at first, but my professors were so accommodating.”

Matos also found a lot of support by joining the PACE program, which provides various services for first-generation and low-income students. And her experience with Early College continued to open doors for her: she served as a policy fellow at the Massachusetts Alliance for Early College for the 2022-2023 school year. There, she learned about the legislative process and how to advocate for more funding for statewide early college programs.

Matos will continue her education at UMass Lowell, where she’s already taking a class. She will transfer as a junior and, in a few short years, will be weighing her options for medical school. While she’s excited for this next chapter, she says she already misses NECC.

“There is so much support here; some of it I didn’t even register as support. I made a plan, and thanks to my advisors, I stuck with it. I’m graduating right on time.”

Matos has made the Dean’s List each semester and currently has a 3.7 GPA. She is a member of the National Technical Honors Society and routinely volunteers on campus and in her community. Her success has even encouraged her mom, who had previously earned a certificate in Human Services from NECC, to start taking classes again.

Matos was nominated for student speaker by Emily Yunes, 5th Year and Promise Program Coordinator, Kevin Mitchell, Chemistry Professor and Kristen Arnold, Director of the PACE Program.

Nominations were solicited from the college community and submitted to a committee of faculty and staff who selected Matos as their top choice.

To learn more about Commencement at Northern Essex, visit the website at