SCHENECTADY -- Graduates were greeted Thursday by a jubilant and, at times, raucous crowd in Proctors Theater, as Schenectady County Community celebrated the Class of 2018.
A total of 577 students graduated with associate's degrees or certificates, a slight uptick from last year.
While college officials could not provide the graduation rate on Thursday — SCCC had the lowest such rate in the region last year — Director of Admissions Tom Breen estimated it improved from 20 percent last year to more than 30 percent this year.
“It’s certainly trending higher than in any years past,” Breen said.
The Class of 2018 ranged in age from 18 to 76 and included 12 military veterans and two international students.
Many were the first in their families to receive degrees in higher education. Last year, SCCC received a $1.8 million federal grant to help improve results for first-generation college students.
“For many of you, this journey was not an easy one,” SCCC President Steady Moono said from the lectern before introducing graduates. “But you have persevered.”
Tiara Wisher, 26, became the first in her family to graduate from college on Thursday. While studying in SCCC’s paralegal program, Wisher worked two jobs in nursing at Living Resources and Attentive Care, both in Albany.
“I always found a way,” Wisher said of the challenges she faced. “I always wanted to go to school … My mom, she knew how much I wanted it, and she always wanted to push me towards getting [my degree].”
Wisher plans to move to Atlanta to gain paralegal experience and eventually attend law school.
Hailing from Brooklyn, David Bonilla, 23, said it was “kind of surreal” to be the first in his family to attain a degree. After studying business administration, he hopes to open a sports medicine business.
At 45, Gingeretta McDade is also looking forward to being a paralegal as a first-generation college graduate. A mother of six, McDade couldn’t help but thank her parents.
“My mom and dad are very excited,” she said. “This goal has been a long time coming.”
The commencement speaker, Professor Rocco Verrigni—who has taught at SCCC for more than three decades in subjects ranging from culinary arts to math—urged students to think about their legacies.
“I’m not sure how many of you have given a thought to leaving a legacy, or the legacy that you want to leave, but this has been a topic that I’ve thought much about over the last few years,” Verrigni gruffly implored. “What I’ve come to believe is that you must start with the end in mind.”
Another well-received speaker was Professor Alicia Richardson, who brought some “real talk” to the proceedings.
“Your voice matters,” she declared to the crowd after a lengthy ovation. “I’m not talking about your academic voice. I’m not talking about that, I’m talking to my boss’ voice.”
Richardson then switched to a more colloquial tone as the students cheered her on.
“I’m talking about that, ‘ain’t nobody got time for that!’ voice. I’m talking about that Cardi B voice,” she chuckled in reference to the popular rap artist.
Student speaker Matthew Helms, president of the Student Government Association, shared final remarks with graduates before the degrees were passed out and the class of 2018 began the next chapter of their lives. Citing Heraclitus, Helms focused on embracing change in his speech.
“I can tell you this from experience: the way the world looks right now doesn’t have to be the way it is. Granted, I know, look at us here at graduation—it looks pretty great!” Helms joked before making his more profound point. “Everything in our past has culminated up to this moment … Whatever it be, this change is your choice.
"Please, try it out.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the last name of Tom Breen.