It was a 'big day' for HCC grads

May 21, 2006|by DON AINES

HAGERSTOWN - Jeannie Beer of Martinsburg, W.Va., watched her stepdaughter, Christina, cross the dais at Hagerstown Community College to receive her associate degree Saturday, but Christina's mother had a better view of the event.

"They both got their degrees today," Jeannie Beer said. "They got to sit beside each other and walk across the stage together."

More good news for the Beers: Christina already has a job offer to be a radiology technician at City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va.

"Big day," Jeannie Beer said. "Big Day."

About 200 of the 360 students eligible to receive their degrees showed up in cap and gown for the 59th commencement in the college's Athletic, Recreation and Community Center. Small cheering sections of parents, spouses, children, grandparents and friends erupted as each graduate's name was called to receive their diplomas.


HCC President Guy Altieri singled out a few students, who he said "exemplify the kinds of students we honor today."

One was Colleen Keely who last year, at the age of 15 1/2, became the youngest person to earn an associate degree. Since then, she has earned a degree in history and, at the age of 16, picked up an English degree Saturday.

Altieri said Colleen, who is home-schooled, edged out her older sister, Sarah, who had earned a degree two years ago when she was "just shy of 16."

Colleen's record might not stand for long. Her 13-year-old sister, Diana, is working on a degree, Altieri said.

As a child, Altieri said Daniel Matthews struggled through school with attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder. A father of five, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but became the first person in his family to attend college, earning an associate degree in education, Altieri said.

Matthews will be transferring to Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va., to earn his bachelor's degree, and plans to teach high school history, he said.

For many of the students, the community college was the first step toward a four-year degree, for others, it was the next step to a better job.

"It took a long time to get a little education. I have a job and a daughter," said Michelle Brammer of Hagerstown. After seven years, it now will be her husband's turn to return to school.

Brammer works in the computer field, and her employer helped with tuition, as did Shannon Reedy's. The Waynesboro, Pa., woman said she started college at Shippensburg (Pa.) University as a biology major, took a year off and decided to switch majors to business administration.

"Now I'm going back to Shippensburg," Reedy said.

"The county is changing rapidly ... and demands on our residents and citizens are going to change," Washington County Commissioner James Kercheval said. "HCC plays a big part in helping us adapt to those changes," which will require a more skilled work force, he said.

"You won't have to go to work each day and say something like, 'Do you want fries with that?'" he told the graduates.

Graduate Rachael McLoud, president of the Phi Theta Kappa chapter, said HCC gave her the opportunity to restart her academic career after injuries ended her dream of being a ballet dancer.

"Live as if you were going to die tomorrow," said McLoud, quoting Mahatma Gandhi. "Learn as if you were going to live forever."

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