Where do you want to fly?
Hagerstown Community College marked the end of one chapter and the beginning of many new chapters for more than 150 of its new graduates Saturday, as about 94 of them gathered with family and friends at HCC’s Athletic, Recreation and Community Center to receive their diplomas.
It was the third year for HCC’s now annual December commencement exercises, but the first HCC commencement for new President Jim Klauber.
“Even though this is the third institution where I’ve led graduations, the first time you’re always nervous,” Klauber confided to Herald-Mail Media afterward.
“We’re here today to honor you,” Klauber told the class of almost-graduates as the ceremony began. “However, where I am from, there’s an old saying that goes a little bit like this: If you’re walking along the road and you see a turtle sitting on top of a fence post, chances are it did not get there by accident. … You’re not here by accident; were it not for the sacrifice of family, friends, loved ones, you might not be here today,” he said, recognizing the audience of proud onlookers “who helped you along the way and made this day possible.”
History major Leah Vroman, who received her associate degree with high honors Saturday, was chosen to give graduation remarks. She admonished her classmates to find their own themes — and even warbled a few memorable ones composer John Williams had written for the likes of Indiana Jones, Harry Potter and Darth Vader.
Williams, she said, “has a talent that you may be discovering for yourself. These people can take the characteristics of these roles and mold them into something memorable.
“We do this for ourselves — you’re doing it right now, right from your seat, you’re creating your own ‘theme’.”
Themes reflect actions, she added: “We are what we do.”
Her classmates had “signed up” for the challenge of their education and built on their skills to improve their future, she said.
“And these are all chords reflecting our good and bad experiences here; not just your good and bad grades.
“You’ve been composing your theme throughout your successes and your failures, your choices, your relationships, your academics and your integrity.”
Graduation, she said, “means that you set a goal and you met it.”
Associate Professor Rebecca Westmeyer, chairwoman of the faculty assembly, challenged the Class of December 2018 to seek “the joy in difficult situations; find peace and love in your heart. Hope for good in this world. Be humble and kind and generous. Show empathy and compassion toward others. Tell the truth and have faith.
“These words are easy to say but much harder to live,” she added. “You must choose to be kind. You must choose to be honest. You must choose to have love and joy and peace.”
Cheers erupted from the audience as class members filed across the stage to accept their diplomas. In a special gesture, Klauber stepped away to let Pete Chapelle, HCC’s custodial operations supervisor, hand his son Ocoee his associate degree in dance.
“We had a great day and a lot of great graduates who are going on to do great things, and that’s always exciting,” Klauber said once the tassels had been flipped and the new graduates left the gym to celebrate.
His favorite part, he said, was “always shaking hands with the graduates. Always giving them the diploma, watching them come across, congratulating them — they’re smiling, I’m smiling.
“Some of them are just so nervous to be on the stage, you can tell,” he said. “Other ones are pretty confident, but I’m trying to disarm the ones that are nervous and making sure they enjoy that moment of getting that degree.”