Hundreds of graduating students were joined by family and friends on Sunday as Southern Maine Community College held its 76th commencement.
A total of 1,076 students earned 1,143 degrees and certificates, with many of them receiving their degrees at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland on Sunday.
See the full list of graduates in our 2023 Commencement Program.
Students from the Class of 2023 come from all 16 counties in Maine. Graduates also originate from 22 other states and 37 countries worldwide.
Caymen Warburton received his degree in Criminal Justice this Sunday. He credits Maine’s Free College Scholarship as a critical factor that helped him reach the first of many goals.
“When I started at SMCC the free-tuition program was not in place, so I was constantly stressed about how I would continue to pay for school,” Warburton said. “I was working as a student ambassador in the Admissions office when the College announced the program. I knew the program would help get me to graduation. I want to have a career in law enforcement to make a difference and positively impact people’s lives. Leaving SMCC debt-free impacted my life and my entire family’s lives. I’m so thankful.” Warburton plans to move on to a four-year college to complete his criminal justice path.
SMCC President Joseph Cassidy presided over the ceremonies. Reza Jalali, writer, educator, former refugee, and current Executive Director of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center (GPIWC), was the featured speaker at this year’s commencement. Jalali, an Iranian Kurd living in Maine since 1985, is a champion for New Mainers attaining educational opportunities when they come to Maine and has become an essential partner with SMCC.
“This ceremony is a celebration of opportunity and perseverance. Students in this class had the opportunity to access Maine’s Free College program which provided free tuition at SMCC,” President Cassidy said. “We’ve heard many stories from students telling us this was their only path to a college education. It’s important to also recognize that most of the students in this class had to endure the COVID pandemic while trying to begin a college career and facing challenges never before encountered. I’m proud to have witnessed so many success stories throughout that challenging time, making this a special day to celebrate incredible accomplishments by the SMCC Class of 2023.”
One graduated student in the Hospitality Management program, 35-year-old Alyssa Maziarz, faced educational challenges head-on while dealing with serious life challenges.
“I have struggled with alcoholism most of my adult life,” Maziarz said. “Once I entered recovery, I knew I finally had to finish what I started in college 17 years ago. I began SMCC with all online courses during the pandemic, but once the in-person learning started again, I received incredible support from the Culinary Arts & Hospitality Chair and everyone in the program. I was honest about my situation and they were there to support me throughout the entire process. I knew after a visit to Disney World when I was six that I wanted to help people enjoy life. With the help of everyone and my life motto of ‘faith, trust and pixie dust,’ I’m telling everyone I couldn’t be prouder to finish my 17-year journey to get my degree at SMCC.” Maziarz started her career at Canopy in Freeport, Maine, through an SMCC connection. Maziarz is currently in the workforce at The Press Hotel in Portland, Maine as a Housekeeping Supervisor and plans to use her SMCC degree to climb the ladder within the San Francisco-based hotel management company Fathom Cos.
2023 SMCC graduates are continuing their education at the University of Southern Maine, the University of Maine, the University of New England and other institutions in Maine, as well as other private and public institutions, including Bentley, Mount Holyoke, Smith, and others.
Among this year’s graduates that are using SMCC as a springboard to complete their educational journey at a four-year institution is Logan Burt. Burt will graduate with a Business Administration – Sports Management degree this Sunday.
Burt, also a SeaWolves baseball player, will transfer his SMCC credits to NYU in New York City in pursuit of his sports management bachelor’s degree. “I just set a goal to transfer my SMCC credits to the best four-year school I could and landed on NYU,” Burt said. “Once I knew where I wanted to go, they accepted all of my SMCC credits, so it was a no-brainer.” Burt credits the SMCC Transfer Services staff for helping him to be accepted at NYU.
“I had to go through a rigorous application process to get in, and everyone at SMCC was so helpful and so patient and got me through the challenging parts. I am so thankful for the relationships I have built here at SMCC. They will stay with me for my entire life.” Burt’s ultimate goal is to work for a professional sports franchise.
Photo Gallery (Photos by Kari Herer): https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjAEQ1R