Southern Maine Community College awarded a near-record number of degrees Sunday when hundreds of students were joined by family and friends at the College’s 72nd Commencement.
In all, 1,096 students earned 1,126 degrees and certificates during the past academic year, with hundreds receiving their degrees during Sunday’s graduation ceremonies at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. Those numbers represent the second-highest graduation and degree counts in SMCC’s history, exceeded only by the 2018 totals of 1,120 students receiving 1,156 degrees.
Students in the Class of 2019 came from across Maine, 17 other states and 28 foreign countries. The youngest graduate was 18 years old, and the oldest was 69. More than 10 percent of the graduates – 116 students – were members of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.
Among this year’s graduates was Banah Alhanfy, who is continuing her education at Smith College in Massachusetts after earning a Liberal Studies degree with a focus on Political Science at SMCC.
Alhanfy has immersed herself in politics since moving to Maine from Iraq two years ago. Twice she was an intern for U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, and she was Pingree’s guest at the president’s State of the Union address in Washington in 2017. She also served as an intern for the nonpartisan League of Women Voters and is taking part next month in a statewide student leadership conference for women.
“SMCC has been a beginning for me,” she said. “It’s a place that’s given me the opportunity to do all these great things while I’ve been in school.”
SMCC President Joe Cassidy presides over the ceremonies. The keynote speech was delivered by Alyssa Turnbull, an SMCC alumna with an inspiring story who now works as a research and development technician at Jotul North America.
“Graduation is a time to celebrate the success and the hard work of our graduates,” Cassidy said. “The Class of 2019 has distinguished itself and our graduates are prepared for future success as they continue their education or advance their careers. Commencement may mark the end of their time at SMCC, but it also serves as a launch pad to opportunities that lie ahead.”
2019 graduates who are continuing their education will attend the University of Southern Maine, the University of Maine and the University of New England and other in- and out-of-state private and public schools that include Smith, Mount Holyoke College and Bentley University.
Graduates entering the workforce have landed jobs at hospitals, law enforcement agencies, restaurants, fire departments, creative agencies and other companies and organizations in Maine and elsewhere.
Zach Cashman has been working part-time at the Scarborough Public Works Department as an auto technician for the past year while finishing his Automotive Technology degree. He expects to continue working there in a full-time capacity upon graduation.
When Cashman completed high school, he attended a public university and studied history for a few years, thinking he might want to become a teacher. But he changed course and enrolled at SMCC after deciding he wanted to work on cars. Through the Automotive Technology program, he learned in-demand skills and went to work at Scarborough Public Works, first as an intern and then as a full-fledged employee.
“SMCC teaches you pretty much all the basic skills you need in the workforce,” Cashman said. “The program also gave me the connections that allowed me to land a job.”