The Community College of Vermont celebrated graduates from the classes of 2020 and 2021 in a virtual commencement ceremony Saturday afternoon.
More than 400 members of the Class of 2020 and more than 450 students from the Class of 2021 received associate degrees, according to a CCV press release.
Graduates represented all 14 Vermont counties and more than a dozen states and countries. The youngest graduate was 17 years old; the oldest was 86. Also among the graduates were 50 veterans and active members of the military.
CCV President Joyce Judy welcomed viewers to the ceremony, which was streamed on the college’s YouTube channel.
“The past months have required each of you to adapt to new normals, shoulder new burdens and accept new uncertainties,” she said. “They have also pushed you to dig deep within yourselves to stay focused on your dreams, persist in your studies and find hope in the future.”
However, Judy noted that the challenges graduates have faced go beyond COVID-19.
“In addition to being college students, you have balanced working jobs — sometimes two or three — parenting children, caring for elderly relatives, serving in the military, adjusting to life as a new Vermonter, participating in activities at your high school, and many other responsibilities,” she said, praising the “spirit of perseverance” graduates have demonstrated.
“As you move on to new challenges and new adventures, I hope you will call on your resilience and determination to keep adapting to change, learning from the world around you and growing into the people you want to become.”
Gov. Phil Scott addressed graduates in a speech that offered advice on how to face life’s challenges that lie ahead.
He said earning a degree is never easy, but the accomplishment is “even more impressive” when doing it in the midst of a once-in-a-century pandemic.
Scott cited his experience governing through the pandemic as an example of making difficult, sometimes unpopular choices.
“Sometimes, you have to dig deep, you have to challenge your own instincts, be willing to learn, take in new information, listen to different perspectives before doing what you think is right,” he said. “I’m confident that CCV has given you the tools you need to succeed, and the lessons you’ve learned will help guide the way for years to come.”
The ceremony featured two student speakers, representing the Classes of 2020 and 2021.
Amanda Letourneau, a 2020 graduate of CCV’s Newport Academic Center, spoke of the personal challenges she overcame after an automobile accident in 2016 led to the loss of her leg, as well as the shared struggle she and her classmates faced while completing college at the height of the pandemic.
“I hope that all the graduates and supporters can feel a sense of pride and joy, and a sense of accomplishment — whatever age you are or however long it took you to get to this point,” she said.
Letourneau talked about the individual grit and determination required to overcome such obstacles, but also reminded her fellow graduates that it’s OK to ask for help when they need it.
“I’m sure for many of us today we’ve had support at times, and we may have been ashamed of that support — ashamed that we couldn’t do it by ourselves. But that’s part of life and part of being human,” she said. “Whatever your journey may be after today — whatever your next adventure is — I hope, wholeheartedly, that you accept whatever comes your way and you accept help if you need it. Take the next step, even if it’s terrifying.”
Ashleigh du Plessis, a 2021 graduate from the Upper Valley Academic Center, spoke about her experience as a nontraditional student.
Immigrating to Vermont from South Africa, du Plessis had to balance raising three children and adapting to life in a new country while studying as a full-time student.
She said she initially didn’t think she could manage returning to school at this stage in her life, calling the prospect overwhelming and intimidating.
But she said the welcoming atmosphere of the CCV community helped her overcome those fears and has given her the confidence to believe that she can “still make a valuable contribution to society.”
“The past two years have required a steady mix of gusto and grit, a commitment to work assignments over weekends and pulling late nights, even sharing a workspace with my children as we all participated in remote classes,” she said. “To the class of 2021 and the class of 2020, be proud of your accomplishment. Not everyone has the opportunity that we’ve just had. Use this to move forward. We’ve persevered.”