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New London - Neither personal hardships, nor full-time jobs nor a lack of air conditioning could keep the graduates of Opportunities Industrialization Center of New London County from celebrating their accomplishments Thursday night.
Packed into a stuffy auditorium at Connecticut College, staff, friends and family waved and cheered as the 116 graduates marked the end of months of skills training and certification programs. Among them were Judy, Kerry, and Ashley Adams, three generations of the same family.
"I haven't (gone to school) in 40 years," said Judy, Kerry's mother and Ashley's step-grandmother. "But it's all about retraining the brain."
Judy, 59, used to be a cook until a back injury forced her to quit a few years ago. After being out of work for more than a year, she decided to enter the office and computer skills program at OIC. Kerry and Ashley soon followed suit - Kerry in the Certified Nursing Assistant program, Ashley in culinary arts. Each had their own obstacles to overcome, Judy said, but they made it through together.
"I'm so proud of both of them," she said with a smile.
The Rev. John Webster, representing the Board of Directors, welcomed the graduates and congratulated their families for sharing the burdens involved with participating in a program like OIC.
The ceremony also involved three students' reflections, each one met with cheers and whistles from the crowd. Rachel Deeghan, who plans to use the skills she's learned at OIC to work with victims of domestic violence, said that they've shown it's never too late to go back to school.
"I never thought I'd be here standing in front of you," she said.
Lead counselor Lisa Russ Bucklin told the graduates they were her heroes - in more ways than one. After speaking about how proud she was to watch them grow every single day, she broke into song, belting out "Hero" by Mariah Carey to a standing ovation.
Susan Townsley, executive director of Literacy Volunteers of Eastern Connecticut and former first selectwoman of Old Saybrook, gave a commencement address in which she laid out three keys to success for entering the work force - decide on your own personal definition of wealthy, be nice and find your flow, or the conditions under which you can do your absolute best.
Founded in 1964, OIC is a national nonprofit that provides education, skills training and career services for the disadvantaged and unemployed. The New London chapter celebrated its 40th anniversary this year.
Ashley Adams, Judith Adams, Kerry Adams, Carol Jean Anderson, Sandra Antonetti, Samuel Arder, Noraida Rosario-Attinello, Yamaira Badillo, Harry Baker, Cory Bartha, Charnelle Beasley, Giovanni John Biasetti, Christina Bliven, Kimberlee Brennan, Steven Burrows, Brenda Cammarata, Yesenia Casillas, Morgan Church, Sarah Clark, Marissa Clarke, Crystal Clay, Ruth Clements, Stanley Comer, Jaime Cook, Anny Cooper, JoAnn Correia, Alix Cummings, Sandra D'Apice, Amanda Darling, Rachel Deeghan, Joshua Dekle, Karen DeVirgilio, David Dewitt, Davon Dixon, Michelle Duncan, Alison Duso, Michael Edwards, Laurel Egan, Marcus Esannason, Daisha Evans, Robin Evashowsky, Christina Falck, Maria Fatah, Charlotte Fennell, Brian Fontaine, Catherine Forbes, Janina Garcia, Jorge Garcia, Travis Gee, Angela Gibbs, Justin Granger, Brandi Green, Jermaine Green, Jalesa Haley, Darren Hall, Jessica Halleck, Rosa Hernandez, Reid Hildebrand, Joshua Hill, Tyana Hodge, Katie Hugh, Denise Hughes, Jillian Jalkanen, Theresa Jones, Michael Knowles, Jodie Kuczenski, Shanna Ladson, Ryan Lapietra, Malcolm Lytell, Jessica Maldonado, Richard Maldonado, Shanice Malloy, Ayesha Manzoor, Maurice Marshall, Tiffany Marshall, Lisa Marvel, David McIntyre, Janay McLellan, Mark McQuillar, Amanda Messore, Maurice Milligan, Sarah Neilan, Luis Negron, Ariel Ongsingco, Angelica Pagan, Sarah Peabody, Jennifer Pitt, Enrique Ramos, Felicita Ramos, Ramonita Ramos, Robert Reimer, Kathryn Rogers, Laura Ross, Tyrone Savage, Barbara Senat, Storm Shadowynd, Katherine Shaw, Todd Silva, Mary Stanhope, Amye Stoddard, David Tate, Ida Taylor, Darren Teal, Keisha Thomas, Shakea Thomas, Shantucket Thomas, Nathaniel Torres, Alisha Towpasz, Keleta Upshaw-Young, Katherine Watters, Megan White, Kristina Williams, Robert Willis, Brittany Wray, Heather Wright, Robyn Young.