HCC holds 63rd commencement

May 15, 2010|By MARIE GILBERT
  • Left to right, Mini Patrick of Hagerstown; Ashley Barnes of Fayetteville, Pa.; and Ashley Hutcherson-Emtcheu of Hagerstown fan themselves Saturday while waiting for the beginning of Hagerstown Community College's 63rd commencement.
By Kelly Hahn Johnson, Staff Photographer

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    HAGERSTOWN -- For 10 years, Laura Griffith measured her life in what-ifs.

    What if her husband didn't punch her today?

    What if he didn't call her names or demean her in front of their children?

    What if a moment went by when her body and spirit didn't suffer from being abused?

    One day, she asked herself another question -- what if she left?

    "I just had enough," Griffith said. "You get to a point where you're done with the violence."

    So, mustering up all of her courage, she packed up her three children and headed into the unknown.

    She didn't have a car, a job or a permanent residence, she said. But she had resolve.

    With the help of CASA (Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused), Griffith, 41, said she found temporary shelter and began setting some goals.

    One of those goals was to get a college degree.


"I knew there was no way I could succeed on my own without an education," the Hagerstown resident said. "And going to school was something I had really wanted to do.

She accomplished that goal Saturday morning, when she received an associate degree in English from Hagerstown Community College.

During the college's 63rd commencement, HCC President Guy Altieri called Griffith's story "a wonderful example of a single mother's ability to overcome obstacles and to reach educational goals."

"It's an example that proves if there is a will, there is a way," he said.

Griffith was among 452 students who received degrees and certificates from HCC. About 250 graduates attended the ceremony before a crowd of 2,000 supporters at the Athletic, Recreation and Community Center on the HCC campus.

"Today, we pay tribute to your hard work, dedication and accomplishments," Altieri said. "This is your day. It's our privilege to share it with you."

For Randy Riffe of Boonsboro and his daughter, Chelsi Riffe of Hagerstown, it was a double celebration, as both received degrees on Saturday.

"I never thought I'd go back to school," said Randy Riffe, 50. "But I was in real estate and when the market went sour, I decided I needed to do something else."

"I didn't plan on graduating with my daughter," he said. "It just turned out that way."

Since going back to school, Randy Riffe said he bought a restaurant and knows his business accounting degree will be a big help professionally.

Chelsi Riffe, 21, said she was excited about graduating with her father.

"Not everyone gets to do that," she said. "It's a good moment to share with him."

Chelsi will continue her education at Salisbury (Md.) University.

Laura Griffith said the road to graduation wasn't easy -- not with using public transportation to get to her classes, juggling a work-study program at school with her children's schedule at home and taking care of her parents who had serious health problems.

"But I had a great support system -- from CASA to my professors and my boyfriend," she said.

"Three years ago, I never thought I'd be where I am right now," she said. "This is the best feeling ever."

Now, Griffith is hoping to get a job, buy a house and get married.

"It's breaking my heart to leave HCC," she said. "I've made so many good friends. But this is a dream come true. I did it."

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