NEW BRITAIN â€“ Five hundred graduates representing â€śthe new majorityâ€ť walked across the Welte Auditorium stage at Central Connecticut State University Sunday.
The campus serves as the brick-and-mortar home base for Charter Oak State Collegeâ€™s online degree program, which reaches more students than ever in todayâ€™s day and age.
â€śYour story is now the mainstream story for American higher education,â€ť College President Ed Klonoski told graduates, most of whom were older than 24 and managed work and families while attending school.
â€śMost of you have arrived at this moment along a non-traditional path, often after a number of false starts, and over far more than the usual number of years,â€ť Klonoski pointed out. â€śOnly 14 percent of the college-attending population is full time, living in a dorm, and 18 to 24. In contrast, nearly 50 percent of those attending college today are over the age of 24, attending part time, and managing both a family and a job as they attend. I assume that this represents nearly 100 percent of you.â€ť
Klonoski went on to ask graduates to redefine this new normal.
â€śI charge you with your first post-graduation responsibility. You must tell your story. Explain why you came back to school to finish; describe what it took to get through; detail how that made a difference to your career and let people know that it took a special institution to get you across the finish line.â€ť
A prime example of this â€śnewâ€ť type of student was class speaker Shelly Carter, 39, whose husband and four sons joined the entire student body cheering during her speech.
â€śGoing back to college after 28 years was definitely an adventure,â€ť Carter said.
She is currently the only black, female Fire Instructor for the State of CT.
Sixty-nine percent of Charter Oakâ€™s Class of 2018 lives in the state and 69 percent are women. Students hailed from a total of 34 different states as well as Canada and China.
From a local perspective, 11 graduates live in New Britain and 10, in Bristol.
Among the class award winners was Bristol resident Kathy Alves, who earned her associates degree with a 3.9 grade point average.
CT State Colleges and Universities President Mark Ojakian counseled students to make sure they define their livesâ€™ events â€“ not the other way around.
â€śI ask that you commit from this day on to your journey,â€ť he added. â€śNot the outcome, but the journey.â€ť
Honorary Doctorate Degree Recipient Brenda York chronicled for the audience her personal tale, a particularly unique one.
She left college the first time around after four years and no degree, to marry and raise a family. She home-schooled eight children, all of whom went on to graduate from Charter Oak, except two still completing their degrees. It wasnâ€™t until they were grown that York went on to pursue her own education.
â€śWithin nine months â€“ much to my amusement â€“ my degree was completed,â€ť she said. â€śWe are so grateful for the innovative teachers at Charter Oak who gave us this opportunity.â€ť
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.