Mitchell College graduates reflect on second chances at commencement Saturday
New London — When Zachary D. Rocheleau was a senior in high school, he was kicked off the soccer team and suspended from school for a joke he said was taken out of context.
At Mitchell College, where Rocheleau gave the student address for the Class of 2016 commencement ceremony Saturday, he was given a second chance.
"Mitchell ... gave me a chance to prove what I was capable of and to show me that I was more than that," he said to a crowd of parents, friends, college staff and his fellow graduates.
Rocheleau went on to become a resident assistant and the captain of the soccer team during his time at Mitchell.
On Saturday, he joined 164 other Mitchell College students celebrating their graduation from the liberal arts school overlooking the Thames River.
"I didn't do these things for other people to see what I could do or to make other people proud, but to prove to myself that I was more than all of the labels that people had put on me after that suspension," he said.
The school awarded 22 associate degrees and 141 bachelor's degrees to graduates from across the country and the world.
The campus filled with chatting parents and cheering friends as the newly graduated walked across a small stage on the campus lawn and moved their tassels across their caps.
Roger Feldman of Randolph, N.J., waved a large cutout of his daughter's head on a stick.
He had printed out a photo of Beth Feldman at Wal-Mart and used it to find her in the crowd.
"Maybe (also) to embarrass her a little," said Beth's brother, Daniel.
Beth Feldman posed for pictures with the image of her own face and smiled when her dad held the sign above his head.
"It's really funny," she said.
Juanita T. James, the president and chief executive officer of Fairfield County's Community Foundation and a former chief marketing and communications officer for Pitney Bowes Inc., gave the commencement address.
James told the graduates about her childhood as the daughter of a single mother who had immigrated from Guyana.
She went on to graduate from Princeton University, part of the second graduating class after the school began accepting women.
She told graduates they should find mentors and people to support them as they leave college.
"This commencement is the beginning of the next stage of your life," she said. "You will find those who desperately want you to succeed ... they will help lift you up."
And once they find those people, James said, the graduates should return the favor.
"If you go into life trying to bring out the best in others ... they will bring out the best in you," she told them.
After Mitchell graduate Frandlin Martin walked across the stage and through a row of clapping professors, family members from Florida and California scanned the crowd to find him.
Martin, who played on the men's basketball team at Mitchell, plans to move back to Florida.
He said he hopes to avoid snow after three winters in New London, his older brother Jodner Martin said as the family waited for him to join them.
Frandlin is the youngest of three brothers, and faced high expectations as the brother of two college graduates, Martin said.
"Now our job is complete," he said he would tell his brother. "Now you're on your own."