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Darryl Irizarry, Jr.’s home in West Kensington was a sanctuary of love and stability where education was a priority and family values shielded him and his sister from the lure of the streets.Darryl Irizarry

Principles and morals instilled by his parents, coupled with a curiosity about learning, enabled him to avoid the tragic ending that took the lives of some of his peers. “Some of my friends growing up — sadly — are dead or in jail or struggling because of bad choices they made. I had a foundation, which was my mother and father, and they always instilled in me the value of education,” Irizarry, Jr., 29, said. “My father always said, ‘You are going to make something out of yourself’.”

Irizarry, Jr. serves as the Annual Fund and Alumni Relations coordinator at Community College of Philadelphia, the institution from which he graduated in 2006. He and his sister are the first to receive their bachelor degrees, but their success marks an achievement for this family, which, for decades, has sacrificed to give the next generation better lives.

“My grandparents on both sides didn’t have a high school diploma,” Irizarry, Jr. said. “My parents had a high school diploma. My sister and I earned bachelor’s degrees. And now, my goal is to provide a path that will take my two children as far as they can go.”

Since our founding in 1964 and opening our doors to students for the first time on September 23, 1965, Community College of Philadelphia has served more than 685,000 individuals. The College’s graduates have risen to leadership ranks in business, government and education.

Darryl Irizarry, Sr. said that he and his wife, Glory, took time to stay involved in their children’s school-work. “At a very young age we would sit down with them and make sure they did their homework. We went to afterschool meetings with teachers. After school, we picked them up,” Irizarry, Sr. said.

Irizarry, Jr. believes that his family’s support was the crucial link, and now he is preparing his sons to climb higher on the ladder of opportunity.

As a graduate of Philadelphia public schools, Irizarry, Jr. earned top honors but needed a little help getting college-ready. He found the doors wide open at Community College of Philadelphia, the destination of choice for nearly a third of the graduates from Philadelphia’s public high schools.

“My high school lacked the ability to prepare students to get into college, and I think that Community College of Philadelphia really filled that void. It gave me the essentials I needed in order to go into a four-year college and be successful,” Irizarry, Jr. said.

He entered the College’s dual admissions program, which provided him with a seamless transfer to Temple University and some scholarship extra funds as he earned his bachelor’s degree in Business. Well-timed contributions from his parents, coupled with other scholarship and grants, enabled him avoid taking loans.

“The affordability component was huge,” he said. “That’s what allowed me not to have debt. I’m in a better position now to create a college fund for my kids because I didn’t have loans.”

Over the years, the College has served multiple roles in the lives of Philadelphians like those in the Irizarry family. It has served more than 685,000 students since opening 50 years ago, including an increasing number of Hispanic students.

Sometimes the graduates become employees, and the children of employees become graduates. Irizarry, Jr.’s sister, Jessica, graduated from the College in 2008. His mother previously worked at the institution and his father is currently employed here servicing heating ventilation and air-conditioning systems.

Today Irizarry, Jr. is working to help the next generation of children growing up in neighborhoods like West Kensington. He leads fundraising for a North Philadelphia event called Vale La Pena, which supports youth with afterschool programs and recognizes Hispanic leaders. His work with the regional chapter for the Boy Scouts of America last year helped bring back the Philadelphia Encampment, which gave many urban scouts their first camping experience.

“I want to show my sons no matter where you are in life, you should always be kind to everyone,” Irizarry, Jr. said. “And if you’ve got it, give it to others.”

RSVP to Inauguration of Dr Donald Guy Generals

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Journalist Linn Washington opened a panel discussion Wednesday evening at Community College of Philadelphia on the 1985 MOVE bombing with a simple question.

On Monday, February 23rd ,The Philadelphia Adult Literacy Alliance convened for their quarterly meeting. The meeting focused on creating a pipeline for adult learners to college and featured guest speaker, Dr. Donald Generals, President of the Community College of Philadelphia.

They look more like siblings than father and son. They act like it, too, the way they playfully rib each other during a lunch break at a deli near Community College of Philadelphia.

Community College of Philadelphia Mathematics Professor Ji Gao is not your typical college professor. He is a citizen of the world and, in many ways, a renaissance man.Ji Gao

He has five degrees, including a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Pittsburgh. He is loved by many of his current and former students at Community College of Philadelphia, where he is a renowned mathematics researcher and writer. He is also the creator of the “Gao Constants,” a mathematical equation in which he defined a parameter to describe the squareness of the unit ball of a Banach space. He calls this research “one of his proudest moments.”

With his credentials, Gao could have applied to any college or university around the globe, but he has remained tethered to Community College of Philadelphia, drawn by the students and the opportunity to change lives.

In fact, his feelings for the College run so deep he became a student at the College for his “own personal enrichment.” He became a Music student at the College where he earned an associate’s degree in Music in 1997, putting him into an elite group of faculty who teach here, but also are alumni. He is among tens of thousands of graduates Moving Philadelphia Forward by making contributions at work and in their communities.

Gao says his time spent in the classroom as a Music student has better prepared him to teach. He looked at the institution through a student’s lens. “I love teaching at Community College of Philadelphia,” Gao said. “I totally understand that to make our students succeed it is very important for the teacher and student to form a very close bond. And I think in the 25 years that I’m teaching here, many students have improved and learned a lot. I am very excited when I watch the students walk across the stage when they receive their diploma from the hand of the president each year. So I think that student success is my success in teaching.”

Gao was born and raised in Yangzhou, China. He lived in China for the first 43 years, earning his bachelors and master’s degrees in the field of mathematics at Peking Teacher’s College as well as Nanjing University. Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s in China, Gao said it was very hard for the ordinary Chinese child to get an education. The opportunity for higher education was only open to very few people. He credits his mother, Haung Xiuling , a music teacher, for encouraging him to study hard. Gao came to the United States in 1984 to pursue his Ph.D. in Mathematics. He continued his education in the U.S. receiving his master’s and Ph. D., both from University of Pittsburgh.

Gao, who currently lives in Upper Darby, PA, started teaching at the College in 1990. As he has risen through the teaching ranks here, he has always continued doing scholarly research while teaching full-time in the classroom. He said doing research helps him better translate math concepts like geometry and linear algebra to students.

“You see, modern mathematics is based on basic courses we teach to our students here at Community College of Philadelphia,” he said. “ ...If you want to give students a drop of water, you must have at least a barrel of water yourself and that is why I keep active in research.”

As a personal escape to the pressure of teaching and research, Gao plays the piano and uses that instrument to help him live a better life.

“I play the piano everyday for one hour,” Gao said. “Because of my mother’s influence, I love music. Math activates the left hemisphere of your brain and music activates the right half of your brain... Math is very abstract and music is very emotional, so I think they can work together every day so you’re always happy.”

The 10,000 Small Businesses Program, run through the Community College of Philadelphia, has already graduated dozens of business owners, and the results are measurable within the Delaware Valley.

Mayor Michael A. Nutter announced that the Community College of Philadelphia Nominating Panel, consisting of academic, community, and philanthropic leaders, will accept nominations until March 5th for membership on the Board of Trustees of the Community College of Philadelphia.

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