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Mother and two sons among graduates at Three Rivers

New London — The decision to return to school after spending 20 years as a stay-at-home mom was not a tough one following her divorce, according to Billie-Jo Bradley of North Stonington.

“Now I’m a single mom with five children,” Bradley said. “I had to do something. It would be silly not to go back to school.”

Several years of work paid off on Thursday when Bradley not only earned her associate degree in nursing from Three Rivers Community College but was able to walk with her two oldest sons, both of whom earned their own degrees.

Her story was one of the many in the diverse group of more than 600 students earning diplomas, many of whom attended Thursday’s graduation ceremony on the front lawn of the campus.

Three Rivers President Mary Ellen Jukoski said graduates were “celebrating a new beginning and a new future of opportunity.”

“Graduates, this is your day to celebrate your commitment to learning, the effort and dedication you invested to pursue your education, along with perseverance to make this day possible,” college President Mary Ellen Jukoski said. “Celebrate your accomplishments and the promise of a bright future.”

Bradley walked proudly at the rear of the procession with sons Robert Pabst, who earned an associate degree in civil engineering, and William Pabst, who earned an associate degree in computer science.

Both are Stonington High School graduates who plan to continue their education.

“It’s beyond excellent, it’s just neat,” Bradley said.

Bradley, who graduated magna cum laude, had received a tuition waiver for being a veteran of a foreign war — she served in the U.S. Navy between 1988 and 1992 during the Gulf War.

She said she will be pursuing a bachelor’s degree next.

Perhaps one of the youngest graduates was 18-year-old Madison Spitale-Hanson of Baltic.

She attended Three Rivers Middle College, a magnet high school, and earned enough credits to earn an associate degree in liberal arts and sciences.

She won’t get her high school diploma until June.

Spitale-Hanson is a transfer from Norwich Free Academy who said she was looking for a challenge.

Not only did she earn enough college credits to earn a degree without paying tuition but her achievements — ranking second in her class — earned her a full scholarship to the University of Connecticut, where she is leaning toward a dual major in pre-med and neuroscience.

“My mom is loving it,” she joked about the free tuition.

Among other special honorees at the graduation was Howard M. Jenkins Jr., a 28-year-veteran of Electric Boat who was awarded an honorary degree for his commitment to the Connecticut Early College Opportunity program.

The program was implemented at Three Rivers in partnership with the Science and Technology Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut in New London.

Not only does he support the program but was instrumental in organizing a mentor match program that pairs students from Windham and New London highs schools with mentors working in the manufacturing field.

Fionnuala “Fin” Darby-Hudgen, who graduated from Three Rivers in 2010, gave the commencement address.

She spoke about how higher education changed her life and listed the 10 most valuable things she learned in college but did not learn in class.

She told graduates that at the top of the list was to have a sincere commitment to their work.

“Care deeply about everything you do. Care about why you are doing it and believe in its purpose,” she said.


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