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Three Rivers graduates told to choose love over hate

Norwich — Students come to Three Rivers Community College from all sorts of backgrounds, stories and stages in their careers.

For the Rickards family of Montville, all of that converged on the college green Wednesday as mother Susan Rickards, father Jim and son Hunter stepped onto the stage in succession to receive their associates degrees in general studies together.

The three were all taking classes at Three Rivers last year, when Jim Rickards made some mental calculations and announced that if they all pushed it, they could graduate together. For Jim, who started taking classes four years ago after getting out of the Navy, that meant taking summer classes last year to ensure he would have enough credits to don the black cap and gown with his wife and son.

Hunter Rickards works as assistant manager at Skechers in the Tanger Outlets at Foxwoods Resort Casino and Jim Rickards is a field services engineer for Minneapolis-based DC Group. Susan Rickards had been taking classes on and off while working and raising her family. She works as a job coach for people with special needs and figures to continue her education.

“There are a lot of other classes I could take,” Susan Rickards said.

Three Rivers President Mary Ellen Jukoski highlighted the stories of several of the 537 graduates in the Class of 2017 — 303 of them participated in Wednesday's commencement — including the Rickards, in her address Wednesday.

Graduate Gabrielle Tetra-Bergeron didn't have family surrounding her throughout her educational journey. She spent her entire life in foster care, but grew determined to succeed, Jukoski said. Tetra-Bergeron received a scholarship, became a member of the national society of leadership at Three Rivers and says the college gives her a “home-away-from-home feeling.”

Keynote speaker Jose B. Gonzalez knows that feeling. The former Three Rivers assistant professor of English, Gonzalez, a native of El Salvador who came to the United States knowing no English, currently is a professor of English at the Coast Guard Academy and an accomplished poet. His latest book of poetry, “Toys Made of Rock,” is a finalist for the International Book Award.

Gonzalez told graduates he loves returning to Three Rivers for the “community” part of the college's name.

“It's a college that I loved nearly 25 years ago, and it's a college that I love to this day,” Gonzalez said, “and I use that word 'love' intentionally.”

Gonzalez made that word the center of his speech, urging graduates to embrace love over hate at a time when hatred and confrontation seem to dominate the country.

“We are at a time in which we consider people who use the word, 'love' as weak, but we view those who use the language of hate as strong,” he said. “And we have become so desensitized to the hate that we're inhaling that we sometimes forget to exhale it.”

Gonzalez told graduates the “winds of hate” will try to push them back as they plow through life, but if they respond with love, they will become better students, better workers and better people.

Gonzalez then applied the word “hate” to more mundane situations, saying the graduates might hate their jobs or their work hours. But they should tell their bosses that they love their pay. “Everybody loves to get paid.”

The winds of hate, he said, have howled at him throughout his life. He hated one moment at Three Rivers, when, on a beautiful autumn day, someone came to his classroom to tell him his father had died.

“I hated the moments when people made fun of me when I was learning English, and the moments when others hated me for the color of my skin,” he said. “But it was my love for my brown skin that led me to study Brown Literature, and it was my love of language that led me to become a writer and a professor of English. We've got to love our skin and what's inside that skin.”

Quoting a line that appears in two of his favorite books, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and “A Raisin in the Sun,” Gonzalez said: “There is always something left to love.”


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