"It's been a wonderful experience. I'm going to Hood College in the fall to major in math," said Keely, who was home-schooled.
At the request of faculty, an honorary degree was presented to Todd E. Witmer, 38, who died in March before completing his studies. Several members of Witmer's family attended Saturday's ceremony in his memory and accepted his degree.
Like all college graduations, it's a time when graduates reflect on their struggles to obtain an education.
Graduates including Ellen Hudson and Ernest Terell Kittelberger overcame huge challenges to earn their diplomas.
Hudson, 43, a single mother, returned to school at the age of 38. It took her four years to complete her two-year degree in nursing, she said. Hudson graduated with honors and provided Saturday's graduate remarks as president of Phi Theta Kappa, the school's academic honor organization.
Kittelberger, 22, of Rochester, N.Y., was recognized for overcoming a learning disability and providing leadership as a member of HCC's men's basketball team. In two weeks, Kittelberger said he'll accept a basketball scholarship offer from a college in either Connecticut or Georgia.
Maria N. Carvajal, 24, of El Salvador also juggled a family to receive her LPN certificate in nursing.
"I feel I cannot explain the joy inside. I feel so happy," said Carvajal, who had family members travel from as far away as Mexico to attend Saturday's graduation. Carvajal plans on continuing her education at HCC.
Norris William Roy II, 22, of Washington, D.C., said his degree signified his struggle to move on with his life following the death of his father.
"It just feels good to move on and keep my goals," he said. "I want to succeed in my life."
In closing, Altieri told graduates "in the final analysis, it's your moral compass that accounts far more than anything else," as parting words of advice emphasizing the importance of good character over material gains.
Nursing was the most popular curriculum for two-year degree programs. In the transfer program, general studies and business administration were the largest concentrations, with a significant increase in the mechanical engineering technician program.