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Friday, May 23, 2008

Gateway sends 600 into the world

Grads urged to persevere

By Randall Beach
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
-- Gateway Community College graduates were told Thursday night to “fasten your seat belts” as they go out into an increasingly fast-paced and competitive world, but to never give up.
The advice came from Superior Court Judge Carmen L. Lopez, the keynote speaker for Gateway’s 16th commencement ceremony, who knows something about perseverance.
Approximately 600 graduates, dressed in bright blue robes, gathered in Yale University’s Woolsey Hall for the event. They walked in accompanied by the music of a Neighborhood Music School brass ensemble and the whoops and whistles of family and friends in the balconies. The audience clearly was not intimidated by the Yale setting.
The half-dozen speakers preceding Lopez included Fred McKinney, head of the GCC Foundation Inc., who told the cheering graduates, “I want you to go out and make a lot of money.” He said this would enable him to collect donations from them for the foundation.
Lopez took a different approach. “We have built an altar to money and power,” she said in reference to American society. “It’s not all about money. If you’re down, you can’t wrap yourself up in a dollar bill.”
She urged the graduates to use moral courage and act on their convictions. But she warned, “You will face opposition from the forces of the status quo.”
Lopez noted she was 2 years old when she came to America from Puerto Rico with her parents, who were “in search of the American dream.”
For eight years, they lived in a notorious Bridgeport housing project, until her parents earned enough to buy a house.
Her next big challenge came when she was a student at Sacred Heart University and was diagnosed with advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “I told the doctors, ‘But I’ve got to go to law school!’”
After surviving three cycles of treatment, Lopez was able to make up the missed schoolwork and rejoin her classmates for graduation. She then made it through law school.
The lesson she drew from this: “Sometimes your plans are interrrupted.” She said that’s when the persistence, patience and prayer come in.
During the ceremony, Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce President Anthony Rescigno was given the Board of Trustees of the Connecticut Community Colleges Merit Award. Rescigno has helped Gateway officials pursue their plan for building a consolidated campus in downtown New Haven.
Among the graduates was Evamarie Trimachi, who arrived at Gateway in 2001 after years of battling addiction and homelessness. She is headed for Albertus Magnus College.
“Before I came to Gateway,” she said, “I had no hope.”
Randall Beach can be reached at rbeach@nhregister.com or 789-5766.

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