160 students graduate from White Mountains Community College
BERLIN — Children were playing on the green grass outside the big white tent at White Mountains Community College early Friday evening, their shouts of joy echoing the only-slightly quieter joy expressed by friends, family and classmates who earned associate's degrees in the class of 2013.
Graduation is always a family affair at New Hampshire's northernmost college, and this year's 46th commencement exercise at the Berlin campus on May 17 was no exception, as 160 students transitioned into college graduates.
"Achieve a vision beyond your sight," advised Randy Pierce, founder and president of 2020 Vision Quest in his commencement address. It was a particularly relevant message from a man who, shortly after graduating from the University of New Hampshire in 1989, began losing his physical sight to an unknown neurological disorder. By 2000, he had lost all of his sight. Effects from the same disorder put him in a wheelchair for nearly two years.
In 2012, he reached his goal of climbing all 48 of New Hampshire's 4,000 and higher peaks in one winter season. It's an accomplishment his guide dog, Quinn, shares with him.
On Friday, he recounted a summer hike up Mount Washington on July 4, 2010, and described the sunset as seen from the Lake of the Clouds hut, vividly recalling the tints of the mountain ranges and the bands of color in the sky. He couldn't see the beautiful view with his eyes — his fellow hikers described it to him — but he could see it with his mind.
"You have to remind yourself to see the bigger picture," he told the hushed graduates and audience. Sight, he said, will show you where you are; vision will let you see where you are going.
In the last decade, North Country residents have faced challenging economic conditions, as many large employers have left or gone out of business.
"For some of us, college was the best option after lay-off or downsizing," Kevin Murphy, Phi Theta Kappa president, said in his message to graduates, stressing the need to find something to be passionate about. He returned to school to change careers, completing an associate's degree in accounting.
Murphy, college vice-president Martha Laflamme said, is a husband and father of three, and also volunteers at a local food pantry and soup kitchen, managing to squeeze in time to tutor fellow students.
Student senate president Julie Bolton, whom Laflamme called "a mover and a shaker," was one of those residents who lost her job through layoffs. She decided to change careers, and to go into nursing, a field in which she's found her passion. In her remarks, she reminded her class that, as Ben Franklin said, as investment in knowledge pays the best interest.
Jasmine Montminy earned the President's Award for having the highest grade point average, for the second year in a row.
Adjunct faculty member Dr. Fran Rancourt received the Chancellor's Teaching Excellence Award. Tammy Vashaw, Academic Affairs secretary, was awarded the Chancellor's Service Excellence Award.