CALAIS, Maine — The whoops and hollers of proud families and friends filled the gymnasium Friday morning as more than 200 Washington County Community College students were the honorees at the school’s 42 annual commencement.
The students and faculty were especially proud as it was announced this week that WCCC and Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield are two of just 120 community colleges nationwide that are vying for a $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The recognition is based on the school’s innovative strategies, graduation rates, overall academic excellence and student retention rate.
WCCC President Joyce Hedlund said WCCC is a place of richness. “A richness of place, a place where people drive to succeed, a place of family … friends … diversity … and international experiences.”
Hedlund said graduation was a time for history and the future to come together. WCCC was created in 1969 as Washington County Vocational Technical Institute. It settled in its 400-acre location overlooking the St. Croix River in 1970. It offers training in 25 occupational areas, including associate degrees, diplomas or certificate programs.
To recognize the school’s past, former teacher David Rowe was surprised with the granting of Faculty Emeritus status by Hedlund and several members of the board of trustees of the Maine Community College System. Rowe joined WCCC in 1972 and “taught anything we asked him to” for 38 years, until his retirement in May 2010, Hedlund said.
“I am completely surprised,” Rowe said from the stage.
Student of the Year Vanessa Onie Lougee of Harmony advised her fellow graduates to “Walk the walk, don’t talk the walk.” She also told them to give back to their communities and, “If you are going to be stupid, be prepared to accept the consequences.”
Lougee has maintained a 4.0 grade point average while obtaining her certificate in the heavy machinery repair program.
The keynote speaker was Harold Clossey of Robbinston, a 2000 graduate of WCCC and executive director of Sunrise County Economic Council. Clossey told the graduates to network in both their personal and professional lives for success.
Also addressing the graduates were teacher Pauli Caruncho and Kris A. Doody, chairman of the MCCS board of trustees.
To much applause, 107 students received associate degrees, nine received diplomas, and 113 certificates were handed out for programs ranging from automotive technology and building construction, to culinary arts and early childhood education.
The awards were presented by Hedlund, who was assisted by David Markow, dean of academic affairs, and Darin McGaw, dean of enrollment.