They have endured a lot this year, but the 375 graduates recognized at Northeastern Junior College’s 78th annual commencement ceremony Friday persevered and are bound to do great things as they move on.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the college held two ceremonies this year, to allow all graduates and their families to be able to attend. A virtual ceremony will also be released at a later date.
Friday’s ceremonies started with the graduates proceeding into the Bank of Colorado Event Center to a modernized version of “Pomp and Circumstance” arranged and performed by the NJC Concert Band under the direction of Lee Lippstrew. Students were led into the ceremony by Faculty/Staff Marshal Larry Pollart.
Following a video performance of the National Anthem by the NJC Northeastern Contemporary Choir under the direction of Celeste Delgado-Pelton, NJC President Jay Lee gave the welcome, congratulating the graduates on making it through a challenging year and a half.
“The 2020-2012 academic year has been a challenging year for everyone here at Northeastern, for you the class of 2021 the challenges were at a level that I’m sure many of you didn’t anticipate and quite possibly didn’t enjoy. In spite of all of the challenges you persevered and succeeded,” he said.
He pointed out just how successful these students were, noting that the students who attended NJC in the fall of 2020 set a record for the most students earning grades high enough to place them on the honor roll.
“That is an amazing accomplishment in and of itself, but to do so during a pandemic makes it even more remarkable,” Lee said.
Following his remarks, the graduates heard videotaped remarks from Colorado Community College System Chancellor Joe Garcia.
“This year has presented each of you with challenges that have been common to all students over the years – not enough time, not enough money, or not enough aptitude in math, but you also faced a unique challenge in the form of the pandemic that was unprecedented and unforeseeable,” he told the graduates. “Through it all, you showed your resiliency, determination and strength, you worked hard, you adapted and you did not give up.”
He encouraged the graduates to remember how strong they were this year and find that strength again when they need it. Garcia also told them to keep their eyes open to opportunities and have the confidence in themselves to pursue those opportunities even if they seem impossible.
After his remarks, the graduates heard from Associated Student Government President Garrett Cockroft who reflected on his two years at NJC. He recalled how the fall of 2019 started off normal and he was really enjoying the college experience, and then in January there whispers of a virus and by that spring everyone had to move immediately to remote learning. Summer came and students were wondering when they’d get to see their friends again, then, the light at the end of the tunnel, NJC announced it would be welcoming students back on campus for in-person learning.
“Do we want to wear masks? No. Is it worth being able to see our friends and faculty in person, yes, absolutely; masks have just become a normal thing now and classes began to dwindle from hybrid to in-person. I think for most of us this year has not been the perfect college experience, the thought of quarantining and having the school shut down again is forever lingering over our heads,” Cockroft said.
But the graduates were excited to see the light continue to get brighter this past semester, with almost all students enjoying in-person classes and the opportunity to have fun in small group gatherings.
“We are the class that survived the pandemic, dealt with rules after rules about masks and distancing, had our noses swabbed who knows how many times, some of sat in quarantine, some of us got sick and some of us struggled with classes and finding the motivation to finish the year. As we go forward in our lives after NJC let’s continue to look for the light. We are strong, we persevered, we’ve adapted and we’ve grown,” Cockroft said.
He ended his remarks challenging his classmates to live every day to its fullest, not to take anything for granted, tell their loved ones they love them a little more often and always look for the light at the end of the tunnel.
After his speech, he and his fellow ASG officers presented the Joel Mack Award, which goes to outstanding teachers selected by the student body, to Amanda Kerker, business professor; Brenda Zink, chair of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Department; and Mike Anderson, chair of the agriculture department.
Next was a video message from the NJC Alumni Association. In place of the Pride and Association Award, which recognizes a family for their support, dedication and loyalty to NJC, the association honored Jack and Florence Annan, “the royal couple of NJC.” Annan, who passed away last month, spent 55 years at NJC.
They also had a message for the graduates, encouraging them to continue their pride and commitment to NJC and telling them to “always remember NJC is where you got your start.”
Later, Lee recognized several student award winners. The Charles F. Poole Award, given to scholastic class leaders who attend only NJC and continuously contribute to campus life, went to Hailey Fehringer, Katherine von Steinman, Ananisia Gallegos, Brady Howg and Kayleigh Mackintosh.
Additionally, the Armilda R. Dowis Award, given to an outstanding graduate in an occupational program, went to Autumn Mejia, Benjamin Shook and Nolan White, Chloe Reinke and Alyssa Sprague.
Following the awards, it was the moment the students had all been waiting for: time to step on stage and receive their degree and/or certificate. Then the new graduates receded out of the gym, as “ABC” by The Jackson Five played, and on to start a new chapter in their lives.