Three Rivers graduates 'reach their goal'

Norwich — Elise Sperry of Waterford put things in reverse Wednesday, when she walked among the 563 graduates receiving degrees and certificates from Three Rivers Community College.

Sperry, 17, won’t graduate from high school until June 11 at the Three Rivers Middle College Magnet High School on the same campus. She has navigated the worlds of both high school and college for the past two years, earning an associate degree in liberal arts at the community college, while also serving as president of the group, Student Advocates for Gender Equality, and a member of the college Performing Arts group, Voices of the River.

Sperry also volunteered extensively in the community, at schools, convalescent homes, homeless shelters and animal rescue programs. She’s not done with double-dipping. She earned a full scholarship to continue her education at the University of Connecticut, where she plans a double major in geography and human rights. After that, she plans to obtain a master’s degree in public health and continue with a career in academic research.

Sperry said she was “definitely busy” and admitted to being exhausted at times, but the former fencer at Waterford High School said she has learned how to juggle a tough schedule.

“It’s actually easier to balance if you’re good at time management,” she said.

Sperry was one of several students Three Rivers Community College President Mary Ellen Jukoski highlighted Wednesday in her address to graduates, asking each of those named to stand to be recognized. She then turned to more general accomplishments, asking graduates to stand if they had to work their way through school, raise a family while attending school, or were the first in their families to graduate from college.

Few remained seated through her list.

“You chose to enroll at Three Rivers for its quality education and its affordability,” Jukoski said. “You walked the halls of this fine institution, studied in the library, attended classes with your peers and our faculty. You did all of this to reach your goal, to graduate.”

Then Jukoski asked the graduates to stand, turn around and “salute your faithful supporters and enthusiastic cheerleaders.”

Thomas and Mary Baudro of Gales Ferry didn’t have to strain to find their support network. The married couple were Three Rivers’ oldest graduates Wednesday and have been married for 45 years.

Mary Baudro collected her first college degree Wednesday, graduating Three Rivers magna cum laude with an associate degree in visual fine arts. But Tom Baudro is a pro at these ceremonies, having received three associate degrees and three certificates from Three Rivers since 2009 in architectural studies, drafting and design, and a bachelor’s degree in general studies from UConn.

“He hasn’t missed a semester in 17 years,” Mary Baudro said of her husband.

Tom Baudro, a designer at Dufrane Nuclear in Winsted, will enroll again at Three Rivers in the fall for a geographic information system class, which he said will help in his position as a member of the Ledyard Planning and Zoning Commission.

Mary Baudro said she has been a “full-time homemaker, mother and grandmother” most of her life. In 2014, she was checking out the Three Rivers website and meant to sign up for an assessment of prior learning, “and my finger slipped.” She connected with the fine arts degree program, and never went back.

One of her paintings was selected for the Three Rivers art show at the Slater Memorial Museum in Norwich. She said she got the itch to enroll at Three Rivers in the past while her husband was working on his degrees, but she was always too busy at home.

Now, she said, “I want to paint for fun.” She earned a scholarship for a free class at Three Rivers, and will take a history class this summer, and next year, she will enroll for a general studies degree.

Attending Three Rivers now runs in the Baudro family. Mary said she had a couple of classes with her granddaughter, Lillie Kuhn, a current Three Rivers student.

Jukoski touched on the many varied journeys students have made to reach Three Rivers and Wednesday’s graduation day. Jogaintz Ledoux of New London arrived in the United States from Haiti as a boy. Ledoux on Wednesday earned an associate degree in mechanical engineering technology, and will work as a full-time employee of Pratt & Whitney, where he was a summer intern. He will participate in a program at Pratt that will pay for his bachelor’s degree once he has worked there for a year.

Zaha Bush of Salem, a nursing graduate, is a Pakistani immigrant who never thought of going to college as a child.

“Yet today, her dedication and perseverance enabled her to graduate magna cum laude in nursing,” Jukoski said, “while helping the homeless and volunteering in the medical reserve corps and Uncas Health District. ... She aspires to be a great nurse.”

While many Three Rivers graduates came from homes far away to attend the community college, keynote speaker Frederick-Douglass Knowles II, poet laureate of Hartford and an associate professor of English at Three Rivers, grew up in the neighborhoods surrounding the school.

His grandmother Martha Montgomery moved to Norwich in 1940, and established herself as an active volunteer, member of the NAACP, delivering meals on wheels and active in many civic ventures. In 1980, she purchased the house at 575 New London Turnpike — directly across from Three Rivers’ current campus.

But instead of being welcomed, the family on the very first night in their new home frantically threw buckets of water at a burning cross on their front lawn, with an attempted message that “this is not your neighborhood.” Instead, Knowles said, his grandmother cultivated that land with fruit trees, a flower garden and vegetable garden, and now 110 grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren and great-great-great-grandchildren. Montgomery died two years ago at age 102, and Thursday would have been her birthday, Knowles said.

“Graduates, you are my community,” Knowles said. “Like you, I sat in these same seats and received my associate degree from this institution. Homage is the purpose of community. So I ask you, graduates, what is your purpose? How will you pay homage to your community?”

Class valedictorian Michelle Reynolds of Ledyard, who received her associate degree in graphic arts with a perfect 4.0 grade point average that earned her the Medallion for Academic Excellence, thanked her classmates and many professors who pushed her to achieve and made her feel comfortable despite her being 10 years older than most of her classmates and unfamiliar with things like Google Drive or memes.

“Today,” she said, “we are all valedictorians.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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