NORTH EAST — "The most important thing in your life is to live your life with integrity," Mark Mortensen, Chair of the Cecil College Board of Trustees, told the 168 graduates at the college's 2022 Commencement Ceremony held this past Sunday in Cecil's Building E gymnasium.

At the ceremony, the bleachers - so commonly packed with sports fans - were instead filled with proud parents and family members looking on as their loved ones were honored for completing their education at the college. 

As students reflected on their time at Cecil College during the ceremony, a common theme emerged: commitment and hard work will take you places you never thought you'd go.

While many American students graduating college this year grew up expecting to go to college and went directly on to college after graduating high school, many of Cecil's graduates took different paths to wearing the black cap and gown.

Gabriel Villegas Ponce hadn't expected to go to college. Having grown up in Mexico before coming to the U.S. at 11 years old, Ponce noted that he was the first member of his family to graduate from college, and he had never faced pressure to pursue higher education until moving to Cecil County and realizing it was something he wanted to pursue.

"Even though factors in your life are telling you you can't do something: try it," Ponce advised his fellow graduates.

Noting that he'd never take an AP class in high school, William Wilhelm said that he'd never thought he'd continue his education. Wilhelm, who is 28 and noted that he spent much of his post-high school life working odd jobs in the trades, thanked the support of his wife and his teachers for getting him to graduation, as well as a commitment he made to himself.

"I made a pact with myself that if I was going to do it," Wilhelm said. "I was going to do it 100%."

Wilhelm is graduating with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and Physics, as well as departmental awards in both the Engineering and Physics departments. He plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in Mech. Engineering.

A full 52 of Cecil's grads are graduates of the school's Early College Academy. The Academy enrolls students from Oxford Area High School, local homeschools and CCPS partner schools beginning in 9th grade, and students take classes at Cecil College alongside their normal high school curriculum. As of Sunday, the 52 ECA grads will receive both their high school diplomas as well as an Associate of Arts in General Studies degree from the college.

One of the ECA's graduates, Katherine Hanna, was chosen as the Commencement's Welcome Speaker. Hanna, who received departmental honors in English as well as the Donald M. Thomey Outstanding Student Award, plans to continue her education at a four-year university this coming fall.

In her speech, Hanna noted that Sunday marked the college's first in-person graduation since 2019.

"Our paths started at different times and in different places, but they have all led us to this important moment," said Hanna. "As the class of 2022, we are the champions of adversity."

Adversity, much of it caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, is something the Class of 2022 is familiar with. After the college moved to remote learning in March 2020, the school found that many students lacked home computers or internet, according to Cecil College Public Relations Coordinator Richard Haubert. To counteract that, the college - as well as the Cecil County Public Library system - worked to supply students with tech that would allow them to continue their studies, as well as installing wireless transmitters in campus and CCPL parking lots that students could use to access the internet.

In closing, Wilhelm shared a quote by Nelson Mandela that he believes sums up the college experience:

"I never lose. I win or I learn."

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