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Here Come the Graduates at 2015 Commencement

Dr. Kathleen Hetherington and Dr. Donald Guy Generals

When Kathleen Hetherington first mentioned that she might enroll at Community College of Philadelphia, a teacher at West Philadelphia Catholic Girls High School tried to discourage her.

Back then, community colleges were not always on the radar.

Yet, somehow they still have managed to attract top talent like creative genius Walt Disney,  movie star Tom Hanks, American journalist Jim Lehr, and a girl from Southwest Philly, Kathleen Hetherington, who went on to become president of Howard Community College in Columbia, MD, and her alma mater’s 2015 commencement speaker.

“To paraphrase the famous actor Tom Hanks, also a community college graduate, ‘Community college made me what I am today,’” said Dr. Hetherington during Community College of Philadelphia’s May 2 commencement at Temple University’s Liacouras Center. “If it were not for the excellent education that I received and the experience I had as an employee of the College, I would not be standing before you today. So I am very grateful to the community college system, but my enthusiasm is more about what I’ve seen community colleges do for others. I have seen lives transformed. All of you who are graduating today have experienced that transformation.”

In Philadelphia, the Community College of Philadelphia Class of 2015 had 2,081 candidates for graduation. Four College employees, 25 international students, and 40 veterans were among this year’s class. Times are so different now, Dr. Hetherington told them.

Community colleges are a first option for a growing number of students seeking a path to the Ivy League or to top colleges and universities such as Temple, La Salle and Drexel. Four students in the College’s Class of 2015 already have been accepted to the University of Pennsylvania.

“For many students, community colleges are their first choice.  But they are also the place where people get a ‘second chance.’ Perhaps life intervened, or another college wasn’t a good fit, or maybe it wasn’t their time, but community colleges are the place where people get that rarest of things—a second chance—and it happens each and every day.”

Dr. Hetherington, who received an honorary degree during the ceremony from Community College of Philadelphia's president, Dr. Donald Guy Generals, then shared some advice to the graduates who will scatter as some enter new careers and others transfer to four-year colleges and universities.

Her personal rules for success?  Always dream big. Never underestimate the value of hard work. Face your fears. And stop worrying about what people think about you; most of the time they are thinking about themselves.

Student speaker Charlene Hoffman, a 57-year old mother of three and honor student who plans to teach theater to children, offered advice as well: Give back to the community. “We have a responsibility to our communities, to the world, no matter our majors or aspirations,” said Hoffman. “We must challenge ourselves to be engaged in our communities by giving back. Each one should teach one. The challenge is to take the connections we made, our unique passions, and take our degrees and do something positive and significant with them.”

Also during the ceremony, Dr. Generals announced that Dr. Sarah Iepson, associate professor of art, was the winner of the 2015 Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award, established by the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation. As the honoree, Iepson will deliver a celebrated lecture during the 2015-2016 academic year.

Stephen and Colleen both transferred to Temple from community college. He went to Montgomery County Community College, and she attended Community College of Philadelphia.

Dr. Donald Generals

Nearly 1,000 dignitaries, family, staff and students gathered at Congregation Rodeph Shalom on May 1 to witness the installation of Dr. Donald Guy Generals as the sixth president of Community College of Philadelphia.

The ceremony came weeks after Dr. Generals—a man who stumbled upon his own career path while tutoring at his local community college—announced the creation of the College’s groundbreaking 50th Anniversary Scholars Program. The scholarship, which starts in the fall, will expand access and opportunity by covering the cost of tuition not covered by federal or state financial aid for up to three years for some highly motivated low-income graduates from Philadelphia high schools.

The festivities began in the morning with a colorful cultural procession from the Main Campus. Hundreds of faculty and staff clad in regalia and students walked together. Some held up the 47 flags from the home countries of the College’s international students, who come from around the world to enroll.

Once that group entered Rodelph Shalom, the academic procession began as 39 delegates from regional colleges and universities, about 200 faculty and administrators, and the presidential party opened the investiture service.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and State Rep. James R. Roebuck, Jr., both members of the College’s Board of Trustees, were among the members of the Presidential party. Dr. Ronald J. Temple, the third president of Community College of Philadelphia and its first African American president, also joined the festivities.

The event had a distinctive community feel to it as students sang alongside faculty, staff, and singers from the larger community in The Concert Choir of Community College of Philadelphia. Led by Robert Ross, Director and Chair of the College’s Music Department, the group sang in harmony.  Music was a feature throughout the ceremony, as well as at the Celebration on the Skyline following the event. Dr. Generals, himself a musician, has played the drums at College events and believes that the arts enrich learning and inspire creativity. Thus the soulful sounds of the Jazz Ensemble of Community College of Philadelphia, led by Anthony Ferrara, filled the air before the installation service.

In his inaugural remarks, Dr. Generals spoke of the lasting economic and cultural impact of Community College of Philadelphia, which is celebrating its 50th Anniversary.
Dr. Donald Generals and Dr. Ronald J. Temple
Since its founding, the College has served as a pipeline where talent flows freely into industries and city departments, including the Philadelphia Police and Fire departments and health care industries, Dr. Generals noted. For example, Louis Giorla, Commissioner of the Philadelphia Prison System; Captain Verdell Johnson commanding the 39th District; Lancaster, PA Police Chief Keith Sadler; and Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer are all alumni.

Over the last five decades, more than 54,000 students have graduated from Community College of Philadelphia. “Beyond our most celebrated graduates, there are thousands who have learned the lessons of civility, who have studied and embraced the core values of our humanities, and who have used their talents of critical inquiry to examine the problems in our communities, resulting in healthier neighborhoods,” Dr. Generals said. “We have made great citizens. We have made responsible parents. We have made Philadelphia one of the best places in the world to visit and one of the best places to live.”

The city’s renaissance has been fueled, in part, by affordable educational options provided by the College, Dr. Generals said. He cautioned, however, that the poverty rate—as high as 28 percent in some estimates—threatens recent progress. “The renaissance will screech to a halt unless we find ways to include those stuck in the 28 percent who continue to wallow in poverty and despair,” he said.

In closing, Dr. Generals mentioned the recent riots and unrest in impoverished areas of Baltimore, and offered a call to action.

“I am asking that you join me and our community partners to lead the city and pave the way for the 28 percent in our community who continue to live in poverty and seek a way out.  I am asking you to embrace the possibility that what we do is a matter of social justice. I am asking you to join me in making Community College of Philadelphia the number one community college in America,” Dr. Generals said.



June
Thu 11
Abraham and Diaz talked about the necessity for a partnership between Community College of Philadelphia and city employers, to make sure what's taught is what's needed.

Standing nearby was Simone Zelitch, a professor of English at the Community College of Philadelphia, who recently published an historical fiction novel, Waveland, which revolves around the 1964 Freedom Summer campaign in the United States that attempted to increase the number of African-American voters in Mississippi, which had historically excluded blacks from voting.

Karen Bojar, a former professor of English and women’s studies at Community College of Philadelphia and a 30-year member of the 9th Ward Democratic Committee, is a Mt. Airy resident and former Temple University undergrad who also has a Ph.D. in English Literature from Temple and a Master’s in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.

As a sea of smiling faces surged around her, no one at Community College of Philadelphia's graduation was more joyful than Wanda Klinefelter of Mayfair - unless it was her mom, Gloria.

Nearly a year after he began the job, the president of Community College of Philadelphia was inagurated today.

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