Aspiring doctors, nurses, physicists, teachers and police officers, as well as many teenagers who are the first in their families to attend college, are among the largest dual enrollment graduating class at MWCC.
This year’s graduates of the Pathways Early College Innovation School and the Gateway to College program were recognized during a May 20 ceremony at MWCC. The dual enrollment programs, offered in partnership with the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District, as well as Athol High School, allow students to use school choice funding to earn their high school diploma while simultaneously earning college credits, an academic certificate, or an associate degree.
With 73 graduates from 26 towns and cities this year, the graduating class is the largest ever at MWCC. This year also marked the 10th graduating class of the Gateways program and the fifth Pathways graduating class.
MWCC President Daniel Asquino was the featured speaker, sharing personal anecdotes with the students and the hundreds of family members and friends gathered for the occasion.
When told as a child he couldn’t play sports because he was born with a disability, he persevered until he could. When told he didn’t swim well enough to become a lifeguard, he self-trained and not only became a lifeguard, but rescued three people who were clinging together for survival amid a rough surf.
When told by a high school guidance counselor he “wasn’t college material” he served the country in the Navy, then went on to earn bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degree while simultaneously working and raising a family on modest means. When he wanted to become a college president, he was told he couldn’t because he was on the “wrong track” – an administrative path rather than an academic path. He is now completing his 29th year as president of MWCC.
“If I can do it, you can do it,” he encouraged the graduates. “Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do it. Conquer the world. Do for yourself, do for your family, and don’t forget to give back to your community.”
Some of the graduates will remain at MWCC to continue their associate degrees, while many who have already reached that milestone plan to transfer to a public and private college or university. Several of the graduates plan to serve the country in the military or directly enter the workforce.
Bella Ballin of Worcester, who earned an associate degree in Liberal Arts: Chemical Science from MWCC two days before receiving her high school diploma, was the Pathways class valedictorian.
“Who would have thought that teens from all different towns and all different backgrounds would come together not only as a cohort or a class but as a family? Right from the start we managed to forge bonds so strong that we didn’t want to stray from each other. As our bonds grew, so did our maturity, adaptability, independence and knowledge,” she said.
This fall, she will transfer to Carnegie Mellon University to continue her studies in chemistry.
Christian Rossi, Jr. of Winchendon, homeschooled prior to enrolling in the Gateway program, graduated from MWCC Wednesday with an associate degree in computer information systems and academic certificates in cyber security and IT support specialist. He plans to transfer this fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
He wryly shared that while he thought he was well versed in many topics before enrolling, he came to realize there’s always more to learn, such as the day a classmate had a pizza delivered to the college for dinner rather than packing food.
“Now why I hadn’t thought of that, I cannot say, but I know that I will remember it in case I ever find myself hungry at my next school.”
MWCC’s partnerships with the public school districts represent “the pillars of support for our students,” said Fagan Forhan, Assistant Dean of K-12 Partnerships and Civic Engagement.
“It is through these partnerships that together, we have built a true community here at MWCC. We have created a place where students feel supported, encouraged and safe. We have built a place where new paths are forged and lives are transformed.”