MIDDLETOWN – A little over a thousand people gathered early on Thursday evening to celebrate the graduation of 391 students at Middlesex Community College — the last class to do so. Starting on July 1, the university will get renamed Connecticut State Community College.
“This name change will not change the fact that we have the most beautiful campus in our system. It will not change the culture of our campus welcoming anyone that enters our doors,” said CEO Kimberly Hogan.
During her remarks, Hogan called the Middlesex class of 2023 the “class of endurance.” Most of the students started taking their coursework during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic while juggling other responsibilities, including full-time work.
This was the case for Taylor Doyle. She graduated from Maloney High School in Meriden in 2017 and worked in the kitchen, laundry and housekeeping of a nursing home. Despite being an essential worker, she graduated with honors from Middlesex with an Associate's Degree in Communication Studies and is going on to major in Television and Media Production at Ithaca College in New York.
Hogan added that the Middlesex graduating class of 391 students had a wide range of ages. The youngest graduate is 18 and the oldest graduate is 66. Many other graduates are parents or first-generation students.
Student speaker Katherine Tocto Quituisaca is one of these first-generation students. She emigrated from Ecuador in 2021 without speaking a lot of English and has since earned an Associate's Degree with High Honors in Liberal Arts and Science while she was involved in the Honors Program and the president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.
Tocto Quituisaca remembered she found out she was the student speaker while studying for her physics final in the library. She ran out to take the call from the university, said yes immediately and started crying because she was so happy. During her speech, she compared education to a very confusing train ride and congratulated her peers on overcoming their own obstacles.
“We are not who we were a couple years ago. Each one of us overcame things we thought impossible,” she said. “We were stronger than our fears, made important decisions and made mistakes – a lot of them. But we also made good decisions, if not we would not be here today.”
Quituisaca ended with a quote in Spanish and received a standing ovation from peers and professors. Afterwards, the ceremony included giving a number of awards to valedictorian Mark David Kulaga Jr., a poem from recent graduate Mack Toomey and some words of advice from Middlesex professor Emerita Donna Hylton.
As the clear, sunny day turned to cool twilight, degrees were conferred to general applause and cheering. Proud family members took pictures and videos. Small children ran about the edges of the ceremony and a few stray helium balloons escaped their ties.
Afterwards, families celebrated with hugs and pictures. On a grassy hill, a handful of women sang a traditional Moroccan yuyo for recent graduate Kaoutar Tayoubi Elidrissi and presented her with a red-and-green silk scarf. Relatives explained that the song translated roughly to “God is with you” and is sung by women at special occasions, such as weddings and other big life events.
Tayoubi Elidrissi graduated from Maloney in 2006 and went back to achieve an Associate's Degree in Social Work Studies from Middlesex. She was inducted to the Phi Theta Kappa honors society and is going on to get her Bachelor's degree at Charter Oak State College in New Britain. She also works at a Hartford HealthCare family enrichment center in New Britain. As a first-generation student and single mother of two, her extended family gathered around her to celebrate her big accomplishment.
“I’m trying not to cry, but it’s a beautiful moment,” she said.
Latino Communities Reporter Lau Guzmán is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Support RFA reporters at the Record-Journal through a donation at https://bit.ly/3Pdb0re. To learn more about RFA, visit www.reportforamerica.org.