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    Tuesday, April 23, 2024

    After 58 years, Three Rivers Community College graduates its final class

    Graduates celebrate in the rain and confetti after receiving their diplomas during Three Rivers Community College’s 58th commencement exercise at the school’s campus in Norwich on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Graduates of the nursing program including Adriana Jimenez and Awilda Perez cheer for a classmate from under an umbrella during Three Rivers Community College’s 58th commencement exercise at the school’s campus in Norwich on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Michael Downing reacts to holding his diploma during Three Rivers Community College’s 58th commencement exercise at the school’s campus in Norwich on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Graduate Marcela Ann Pope Lee blows a kiss to a family member after receiving her diploma during Three Rivers Community College’s 58th commencement exercise at the school’s campus in Norwich on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Emma Ayala hugs her nephew London Mann, 10, after receiving her diploma during Three Rivers Community College’s 58th commencement exercise at the school’s campus in Norwich on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Sherlande Alexandre waves as she walks up to receive her diploma during Three Rivers Community College’s 58th commencement exercise at the school’s campus in Norwich on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Norwich ― While delivering the student address at Three Rivers Community College’s 58th commencement ceremony Wednesday night, Ben Kinnie recalled the adversity he and his fellow graduates endured.

    Kinnie, who earned an associate of applied science degree in general engineering technologies as well as a data analytics certificate, remembered graduating from high school in 2020 and enrolling at Three Rivers at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    It was one of two major obstacles he had to overcome in his life after going through open heart surgery at 3-months-old for a congenital heart defect.

    Before the rain clouds rolled in, Kinnie referenced the Metallica song “Nothing Else Matters,” and its message of staying true to who you are, living life to the fullest, and embracing new points of view.

    “While it is important to get that work done to accomplish your goals, it is equally important to never forget about spending time with the ones you love, going out and trying new things, visiting new places, and not being afraid of new experiences,” Kinnie told his fellow graduates.

    A total of 436 graduates earned associate degrees and certificates this year. Eight students earned two degrees, five earned a degree and a certificate.

    The college also recognized four recipients of medallions of academic excellence, students who had a 4.0 grade point average and met degree requirements: Kyle Benito, Juliet Kimble, Jodie Lattanzi and Samuel Sims.

    Wednesday’s commencement was the last commencement for the school under the name of Three Rivers Community College. After six decades of operation, the school will be merging with the other 11 community colleges under the name Connecticut State Community College as of July 1.

    U.S. Treasurer and Chief of the Mohegan Tribe Lynn Malerba delivered the keynote address. She told the story of her own career and how she began at a hospital-based nursing school as opposed to a traditional university, which allowed her to continue her education and earn an income like many of Three River’s graduates have done.

    She talked about how she thought she would one day retire from Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, and never thought she would one day be appointed chief of the tribe and eventually treasurer of the United States.

    “Don’t hold onto your life plan so tightly that you miss the biggest adventure you never imagined for yourself,” Malerba said. “Life is a journey and it isn’t always a straight line.”

    Three Rivers President Mary Ellen Jukoski told the stories of graduates that exemplified the diversity of the college, which included first-generation graduates, family members, and graduates ranging in age from 17 to 67.

    Dr. O. John Maduko, president of Connecticut State Community College, commended graduates for being selfish ― missing birthdays, vacations and time with loves ones ― to pursue their education as well as their ability to adapt to an array of unforeseen circumstances. He said he learned the lesson of being necessarily selfish when he struggled as a freshman at California State Polytechnic University Pomona.

    “Graduates, you are here today because, despite the very people and reasons that are dear to you, you were willing to sacrifice everything and uniquely be selfish to accomplish your life-changing goals,” Maduko said.

    Mother and daughter graduate together

    College commencements typically see parents seated as they watch their children receive their diplomas.

    This year at Three Rivers’ ceremony, Dina Fares walked alongside her daughter, Kayla Lopez, in the ceremony.

    Lopez, a single mother of two from Groton, told The Day before graduation that it was a long journey to get to this point. She works two jobs, one in the City of Groton’s finance department and the other as a co-secretary in the city’s public schools adult education program on a part-time basis.

    The 41-year-old said she started taking classes in 2014, but could not do so consistently while her children, Kayla and her son Julio Lopez, were in middle school. As the children got older and more independent, she was able to enroll in courses on a consistent basis thanks to the affordability and schedule flexibility of Three Rivers.

    She finished her course work at Three Rivers in the winter and has begun taking online classes with the University of Phoenix.

    Fares, who received her degree in general studies, said she wants to be an inspiration to her children, as well as other mothers, to continue their education.

    “You can do it,” Fares said. “You just have to stick with it. You can do anything you want.”

    Kayla Lopez said she is proud of her mother for persevering after the two spent most of the last year taking classes at the same time.

    “I think its really special for the both of us because I know it’s a really big dream of her’s,” Lopez said.

    Lopez, 20, said living at home while the two were in school together was helpful as the two could relate to the struggles of coursework. Though the two were never in the same classroom at the same time, they did take some of the same courses throughout their careers.

    Like her mother, Lopez finished her classes in the winter and has enrolled at Eastern Connecticut State University, where she will graduate next May with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a minor in business administration, and plans to pursue a career in human resource management.

    k.arnold@theday.com

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