(Photo by Nick Parkas)
A record number of students graduated from Bunker Hill Community College Saturday during a lively and celebratory commencement ceremony that could not be dulled by the dreary weather.
The crowd cheered and hooted as family members and friends carrying bouquets of flowers and balloons watched graduates receive their certificates and diplomas in a standing room only tent on the school’s Charlestown campus.
“We are all shining examples of what can be accomplished with hard work and determination,” student body president Stephenson Aman, or “Hollywood” as he is known to his classmates, told his fellow graduates.
A total of 1,146 students graduated from the school this year, a number up 13.8 percent from last year and the schools largest graduating class in its 38-year history.
Collectively, those students earned 429 Associate of Arts degrees, 533 Associate of Science degrees, and 225 certificates.
“Some people do not understand how community colleges build the leaders of tomorrow, but everyone in here knows how good we are,” said Aman, who plans to continue his education at University of Massachusetts Boston in the fall.
A record number of veterans also walked across the stage to graduate this weekend. Bunker Hill reported that 35 of this year’s graduates are veterans who served in military actions as far back as the Vietnam War to the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Jeanne-Marie Boylan, chair of the school’s Board of Trustees asked all graduating veterans at the ceremony to rise to be honored “for their service, for their bravery, and for their contributions to our country.”
The men and women were also honored with white stoles reading “Honored Veteran” worn over their gowns.
Bunker Hill counts about 400 veterans among its students and has been working to support their educational goals.
Its Veterans Center, which opened in 2010, offers a central office for veterans to receive assistance with programs on and off campus, educational benefits, transfers to four-year schools, and counseling.
Some of the school’s veterans work and volunteer at the center which also helps veterans connect and form friendships.
Retired Air Force Colonel Eileen M. Collins, the first female commander of a NASA space shuttle mission and a community college graduate, gave the ceremony’s keynote address and encouraged the students to always have a mission that is larger than themselves and to always continue their education.
“Never stop learning. Even when you feel you’ve reached the peak of your career never stop learning. This world is changing so fast it makes my head spin,” said Collins, who extolled the benefits of community colleges and recalled the inspiration and discipline her community college experience gave her.
Collins earned an associate degree in mathematics and science at Corning Community College in New York before receiving her bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University and master’s degrees from Stanford and Webster universities.
Encouraging the graduates to continue their hard work, Collins drew on her own experience and success for inspiration.
She worked during her time at Corning and used the money she earned to take flying lessons while pursuing her degree.
“I had a dream and nothing was going to get in my way,” she said as the crowd cheered.