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JCC celebrates 50th commencement and success of nontraditional students

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WATERTOWN — The graduates of the Jefferson Community College class of 2014 learned about the college’s rich history and how the more than 20,000 alumni give new meaning to the term “nontraditional students” at the college’s 50th commencement ceremony Friday night.

“I stand here as a perfect example of how it’s never too late, never too hard and never impossible to follow your dream,” student speaker Monica L. Cronin told the crowd of at least 1,000 graduates and family members in the campus gymnasium.

Describing her experience as an adult learner, Ms. Cronin, with her pink high-top Converse sneakers visible under her graduation gown, said that after more than 30 years out of the classroom she was worried she wouldn’t fit in. Over the course of her education at JCC, nearly all students she met had one of the characteristics of a nontraditional student as defined by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Many students work while attending school part-time, and some have dependents.

“My dream was to get a degree. It was icing on the cake that Jefferson Community College had a culinary program and I was moving to Evans Mills, New York,” said Ms. Cronin, who received an associate in applied science degree in hospitality and tourism. “I experienced the perfect storm of a life here at JCC, and right before you here are almost 300 other students with stories just like mine. I think in this community nontraditional is the new black.”

Ms. Cronin and fellow members of the class of 2014 are JCC’s 50th graduating class. In honor of the milestone commencement the ceremony was dedicated to the first graduating class, 1965. One of the 36 members of that class, Anne M. Meyers Eggleston, wanted to share the experience with the college’s newest alumni.

Mrs. Eggleston said in an interview that she wanted to join the celebration because of how influential her own college experience was.

“This is where we started, and it’s grown,” Mrs. Eggleston said. “Now there are dorms, people can get their four-year degrees here, and it all started with our class in that one little place on Lansing Street.”

The class of 2014 includes 678 students who graduated in December 2013 or are candidates for graduation in May or August of this year pending satisfactory completion of coursework. About 320 students attended graduation Friday.

JCC President Carol A. McCoy said the class of 2014 is the largest graduating class in the college’s history, with the 678 students receiving 701 degrees. The class includes the first graduates of the college’s two new humanities and social sciences concentrations in literature and creative writing.

Like Ms. Cronin, commencement speaker Richard F. Young also represented the nontraditional student. Mr. Young, a member of the class of 1968, also represents the school as a former faculty member, student adviser and parent of a JCC student. During his four-decade tenure, he taught public speaking, fundamentals of oral communication, interpersonal communication, conflict management, success in college, and negotiation and mediation.

He said that if it weren’t for his college adviser, Charles LaPierre, who first approached him in Public Square and encouraged him to attend and play baseball for the school, he might not have enrolled. He said that if it weren’t for his professor Al Finnegan he might not have discovered a passion for communications and public speaking.

“You never know who we will affect and who will affect us,” Mr. Young said.

He told the students that when he attended the school, people wondered if there would be a 50th commencement.

“It’s a graduation celebration because you’ve finished something, and it’s a commencement because you’re about the begin a new adventure,” Mr. Young said. “One thing I want to say looking out at this class is wow.”

Before the students lined up to receive their diplomas, Mrs. McCoy said, “We sincerely hope this graduation doesn’t make the end of your relationship with JCC but you continue to feel like a part of the JCC community.”

A list of award recipients from the class is on the college’s website, www.sunyjefferson.edu.

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