SMCC awards record number of degrees at 71st commencement

Southern Maine Community College awarded a record number of degrees Sunday when hundreds of students are joined by family and friends at the College’s 71st commencement.

In all, 1,120 students earned 1,156 degrees and certificates during the past academic year, with nearly 500 of them marching in Sunday’s graduation ceremonies and receiving their diplomas at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. Those numbers represent the highest graduation and degree counts in SMCC’s history, exceeding the 2016 totals of 1,091 students receiving 1,123 degrees.

Students in the Class of 2018 came from all 16 counties in Maine, 18 other states and 22 foreign countries. The youngest graduate was 19 years old, and the oldest was 69. About 10 percent of the graduates – 111 students – were members of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.

Among this year’s graduates is Megan Michaels, who is transferring to Mount Holyoke College’s prestigious Frances Perkins Program for women of nontraditional college age. Michaels credited SMCC with pushing her toward her goals.

“SMCC has given me a future and faith in my ability to be a student,” she said. “It’s given me confidence in asking for support from welcoming professors. SMCC is where I realized that college is whatever you make of it.”

SMCC President Dr. Ron Cantor presided over the ceremonies. The keynote speech was delivered by Ninette Irabaruta, an SMCC alumna who fled violence and political oppression in her native central African country of Burundi before earning a degree at SMCC.

“Graduation is a time for us to celebrate the many successes of our students,” Dr. Cantor said. “The Class of 2018 has distinguished itself, and our graduates are destined for success as they advance their careers or continue their education.”

2018 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 Bentley, Emerson and Smith.

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.

Ruthee Reynolds has a job awaiting her as a respiratory therapist at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor upon graduation. She previously worked as certified nursing assistant, but enrolled at SMCC after realizing she needed additional skills to secure a bright future for her two children.

She commuted six hours to and from SMCC each day from her home in Bucksport, but says it’s been worth the effort to earn a degree and have a job in hand. She was drawn to SMCC by the respiratory therapy program, the affordability and the ocean-side location.

“I wanted to make a better life for my kids,” she said. “I looked into respiratory therapy and decided it would fit me personally, so I went for it. I feel like I am definitely well-prepared to be the best respiratory therapist I can be.”