A Memorable Commencement

January 27, 2014

They didn't let finances or busy schedules or family crises or self-doubt stand in the way of pursuing a college education. They certainly weren't going to let a snowstorm stop them from walking across the stage to claim their diplomas.

A crowd of close to 1,000 braved the cold and the white stuff to see their loved ones graduate from Northampton Community College on January 25, applauding enthusiastically for the men and women, ages 18-70, who reached a significant academic milestone.

They were an enthusiastic bunch, and they got even more fired up by NCC president Mark Erickson who told them to "feel free to make a little noise" on "this great and glorious day."

They cheered for their family and friends for supporting them, the faculty who taught them, and the classmates whose stories of perseverance Dr. Erickson shared. And they gave a standing ovation to commencement speaker LaToya Charise Brown whom many of them remembered from her student days just two years earlier.

A single mom who moved to Monroe County, knowing no one and with no means of transportation, LaToya said she enrolled at NCC terrified, but "yearning to prove something to myself, yearning to prove I wasn't defined by my past mistakes."

Working, going to school, and raising her daughter, she pursued that goal with "tunnel vision," she said, gradually gaining confidence, earning a 4.0, and becoming a student leader. "If I had to choose one word to describe my experience at Northampton, it would be ‘transformative," she said.

Today LaToya is a registered nurse devoted to her job in critical care at Lehigh Valley Health Network. Married to another accomplished NCC graduate, she is pursuing a bachelor's degree in nursing at Villanova University and plans to continue her education to become a nurse practitioner.

"Bask in the wonder of all you have accomplished," she told the graduates, but "don't see this day as an end … but an invitation to dream bigger. Don't let your fear deny the world the opportunity to experience your brilliance."

Dr. Erickson reminded the graduates that they would leave the Spartan Center not as students but as part of a network of 46,000 Northampton Community College alumni "forever connected to this community."

As they marched out to a triumphant "Trumpet Voluntary in D," perhaps they left with words shared by the faculty speaker Celisa Counterman in their minds. Quoting Dr. Seuss, the associate professor of mathematics said:

"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. You're the guy [or the gal] who'll decide where to go!"

The 746 students who completed requirements for degrees, certificates and specialized diplomas in time for winter commencement all worked hard to achieve their goals. You can read one of their stories here.

More photos of commencement can be seen in this Flickr gallery. See more commencement coverage in these WFMZ and Express-Times stories.

Download a transcript of LaToya Brown's speech.

Download a transcript of Celisa Counterman's speech.


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