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New London - Students, both past and present, told those gathered to honor retiring President Grace Sawyer Jones and commemorate the history of Three Rivers Community College how the institution inspired them to pursue their dreams.
For Michelle Jacobik, a graduate of the Class of 1989, the skills she developed at the college - from running an advertising campaign to balancing books - helped build the foundation for the insurance company she co-founded.
"I did receive a first-class, roll-up-your-sleeves, hands-on education," she told the audience at the 50th Golden Celebration for the Norwich college, held at the Garde Arts Center Saturday evening.
Kortney Kirschner, a high school junior, said her experience at the college's new high school, Three Rivers Middle College Magnet High School, has given her confidence. In her speech, she addressed statistics on how some students find themselves unprepared academically for college and thanked Jones for creating the magnet school.
"College has became a reality for me and all of my classmates," she said.
Mohegan Community College and Thames Valley State Technical College were consolidated to become Three Rivers in 1992. Under the leadership of Jones, who will retire in June, the consolidation of the two campuses was completed in 2009 and included enhancing the technology, laboratory and job-training program offerings available to students.
Jones' retirement coincides with the 50th year anniversary of the college, marked by the date that Thames Valley State first opened its doors. Seven years later, Mohegan Community opened.
Students and faculty lauded the unique qualities of Three Rivers that enhances students' education, from a student body comprised of a diverse range of ages to the technologically advanced laboratories, in a video celebrating the 50th-anniversary.
With the message that though the college has changed over the years, the excellence of the education remains the same, Jones addressed in the video how students leave the college with the skills needed to contribute to society. The graduates, of which 95 percent remain in the region, enrich the community, she said.
The students and board members at the event thanked Jones for her guidance and friendship as she led the college.
"Grace, your determination, your warmth and your sense of community come through in everything you do," said Jacobik.