As graduating classes go, this one was on the small side, though the dreams that accompanied the honorees were as big as any.
"If you had asked me last year, I wouldn't think I could ever get A's or B's in high school," said Samuel Ortiz. "Now, completing high school is not my end goal -- it's just the beginning. We're only getting started."
Ortiz gave the student address at last Friday's Gateway to College graduation ceremony, joining six classmates, their families and friends for a celebration of their academic achievements.
Gateway is a program for students who have dropped out of high school or are at risk of dropping out. They take classes at HCC, earning high school diplomas from their home districts while also collecting credits they can apply toward a college degree.
Completing the Gateway program last week were De'Zyre Clark, Gillian Crowe, Yamilette Mendez, Sharane Ranson, Chelsie Rivera and Ortiz, all from Springfield, and Andrew DeTomas, from Hampden.
After Gateway, graduates often go on to college. Three of the new grads are already enrolled at HCC, bringing the total number of Gateway graduates enrolled at HCC this semester to 25.
"Holyoke Community College is so fortunate to have Gateway on our campus," HCC President Bill Messner said during the graduation ceremony. "Gateway enriches us enormously. It's a model for how you should go about education."
Mary J. O'Connor, a faculty member and coordinator of wellness promotion, gave the event's keynote address, in which she reminded graduates to utilize their support system, as well as embrace mindfulness.
"Nobody does anything alone," she said. "Be present for the opportunities. Practice kindness. It will get you through difficult times."
PHOTOS by HANNAH WAREHAM: (Left) Keynote speaker Mary Jane O'Connor sounds a Tibetan singing bowl at the Gateway to College graduation ceremony on Friday, Jan. 29. (Right) Gateway to College coordinator Vivian Ostrowski hands a graduation certificate to student Sharane Ranson. (Thumbnail) A new Gateway grad receives a congratulatory hug.