ELYRIA — Lorain County Community College handed out more than 2,000 degrees and certificates to more than 1,600 graduates Saturday during its 55th commencement ceremony.
More than 600 graduates who walked across the Ewing Field House stage in black gowns and caps — some decorated with working LED lights dangling from them — cheered and were cheered by family members and fellow students who packed the space for the ceremony.
Among the graduates were 353 University Partnership students who earned associate, bachelor’s or master’s degrees in partnership with LCCC and 14 public and private colleges and universities.
They were joined by 78 high school students who earned associate degrees and high school diplomas at the same time through LCCC’s Early College High School and 58 graduates who earned their associate degrees through College Credit Plus.
LCCC President Marcia Ballinger told graduates they’ve worked full time and part time, studied and sacrificed to earn their degrees and helped the college push toward its five-year goal of awarding 10,000 degrees and certificates by 2025.
“And I am so proud of you,” she said. “Whether you’re earning an associate degree, a certificate, a bachelor’s or master’s degree through our University Partnership, reaching graduation is undoubtedly one of your greatest achievements. ... By being here today you’re showing the world that like John Glenn, you had ‘the right stuff.’”
She said her belief always has been that “every student’s dream matters” and that she hoped those who graduated Saturday were on the way to fulfilling theirs.
Ballinger then paused the ceremony, asked all the graduates to stand and had them take selfies with their smartphones to post on social media using the hashtag #LorainCCC Grad.
Equally as excited for Saturday’s events was commencement speaker Allan Golston, president of the U.S. Program for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle.
Responsible for guiding the foundation to promote best practices and offering technical assistance, model programs and consulting to schools throughout the country, Golston said he wasn’t on campus for more than 15 minutes during his first visit a few months ago when Ballinger shared her belief that “every student’s dream matters.”
He said the graduates benefited from the college putting those words into practice by re-engineering student success programs, offering more on-the-job experience and internships and hiring “amazing” faculty and administrators.
Education, Golston said, creates “opportunity, generation after generation” and “can make every student’s dream matter.”
“Let’s be honest, getting here is hard,” he told the graduates. “It takes a lot of work. But with enough time and enough effort, it can open up opportunities for us and for those around us.”
Students juggled work and classes, meal prep and family time and overcame challenges in order to graduate, Golston said, briefly telling the stories of students he met on his visits to campus who were now sitting before him in the audience.
“We’ve never needed more role models like you than today,” he said, encouraging them to embrace responsibility, become mentors, tutors and student ambassadors, to listen to the stories of others and help them set goals for themselves.
“Don’t wait, please do not wait to pay it forward,” Golston said. “Realize the significance of what you did here today, and realize the power of you as a role model.
He then asked the students to do three things:
“One, I hope you all see the value in what you’ve accomplished. Two, I hope you see the power you have as a role model. And three, I hope you don’t waste a single minute before sharing what you’ve learned with those around you.”
LCCC Student Senate President Jude Jeon told the graduates he faced challenges that he also turned into something good. A native of South Korea, Jeon said studying biology and nursing at the same time “is not easy” and can be “very hard” when English is not your first language.
He said he hopes to one day work as a professional health care provider and will graduate next year with a nursing degree, having pushed through the hard times — made slightly easier after Jeon gave away three Apple watches as part of a prize giveaway for those who participated in Saturday’s ceremony.
Ballinger also presented professor Heather Bubnick of the Science and Mathematics Division and associate professor Michelle Foust of the Social Sciences and Human Services Division with Faculty Excellence Awards and $2,500 each, courtesy of the LCCC Foundation.
Also honored Saturday, which was national Armed Forces Day, were LCCC students and their family members who served in the military. Ballinger had all veterans and active-duty military members stand and be recognized for their service to the nation, and they were met with rounds of applause.
Early College High School, which graduated its 11th class Saturday, and the College Credit Plus program are provided at no cost to high school students and their families, Ballinger said. She said those programs provided tuition-free instruction worth $1.4 million this year alone to all those enrolled in the programs.
Thirty-two percent of the graduates in Saturday’s class were the first in their family to attend college, according to LCCC.