MERIDEN — If there were common threads throughout Middlesex Community College’s commencement exercises Thursday night in the auditorium of Platt High School, they might be summed up through two words: resilience and community.
Kimberly Hogan, Middlesex’s chief executive officer, told the members of Middlesex’s class of 2022 seated in front of her that they were the class of resilience. They overcame challenges, including sudden shifts in their educational and personal lives spurred on by the global pandemic.
“Resilience does not make your problems go away. It does not solve any of them,” Hogan said. Instead, it helps one cope with, adjust to, and eventually overcome, adversity, she added.
In all, Middlesex awarded more than 360 degrees and certificates to 335 graduates, who hailed from communities throughout central Connecticut. Meriden and Middletown, both with 40 graduates, were the most largely represented communities in this year’s graduating class. The commencement exercises themselves were the college’s first in-person commencement exercises in more than two years.
Quenisha Williams, 41, of Meriden, was one of those graduates. A small business owner, in addition to being a student, she worked two jobs and is a single parent with three children.
Now she is a college graduate as well. She leaves Middlesex with an associate degree in business administration.
“It was a lot of hard work and determination,” Williams said.
Williams said she had always wanted to go back to school, but had been scared to do so. In 2017, she enrolled, largely at the urging of her eldest son.
For Williams, her time at Middlesex helped set the stage to grow her baking business and to network. She enrolled in a business and leadership development program offered by the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce.
Some of Williams’ college professors were also involved with business organizations and helped connect her with those groups.
Williams navigated a challenging schedule that involved raising a family, work and education.
“I had to learn real tough time management,” she said.
One thing that inspired her was her late father’s encouragement.
Williams said her father died in 2019, at the start of the fall semester. She was encouraged to take time off to grieve.
Williams decided she would forge ahead. “My father wants me here,” she said. ‘Open one door first’
Another graduate, Prudencia Aminawung, earned her associate degree in social work. Aminawung will continue her studies at Central Connecticut State University.
Aminawung, 40, is a native of Cameroon. She has lived in the United States for 18 years, and raised a family during that time.
Aminawung, as she looks ahead, said she is focused on an adage her father has always said: “Open one door first, before you open another one.”
“Right now, my mind is on this one,” Aminawung said, moments before she and fellow graduates would step into the auditorium.‘You all showed up’
Jimmy Greene, a renowned jazz saxophonist and co-coordinator of Jazz Studies at Western Connecticut State University, delivered the ceremony’s commencement address. In the address, Greene focused on the word “community.”
Greene described the importance of community when his family experienced tragedy on Dec. 14, 2012. His then-six-year-old daughter Ana Marquez-Greene was among the lives lost during the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that day.
Greene noted that community members from all over — Connecticut to his former home in Manitoba, Canada — reached out to provide support during his family’s darkest days.
His now-18-year-old son doesn’t remember what was said when those community members reached out, but he remembered who showed up.
“Speaking of showing up, everyone sitting here today, who is going to walk up on this stage has shown up big time,” Greene said. “Many, if not most of you, started your experience in the midst of a global pandemic, the likes of which this world has not seen in over 100 years.”
Despite the setbacks and isolation spurred by the pandemic, Greene said the community found other ways to connect.
“No it wasn’t ideal,” he said, of video conferencing and other patchwork means of gathering, later adding, “... You all showed up.”