MANATEE — The last time Nancy Adrian attended a graduation was her granddaughter’s several years ago. Now the 64-year-old grandmother was getting a diploma of her own during the first of two Manatee Community College spring commencement ceremonies at Neel Performing Arts Center on Saturday.
“It feels great,” said the petite woman who struggles with rheumatic heart disease and a mechanical aortic valve, and began taking college classes after her husband died in 2000. “I feel really privileged.”
Adrian was one of 270 students out of 660 eligible for spring graduation. To accommodate the large number, this was the first year the spring commencement was divided into two ceremonies, according to Jessica Klipa, MCC’s public information coordinator.
Students graduating with an associate of applied science and associate of science degrees graduated during a 10 a.m. ceremony. Students receiving an associate of arts degree graduated at a 1 p.m. ceremony.
Following the traditional processional into the auditorium, students took their seats on the stage. Dr. Lars Hafner, president of Manatee Community College, turned to the students and congratulated them for their achievements.
“This graduation represents a beginning,” he said. “Today we are celebrating hundreds of shared successes.”
Joseph Cooper, a MCC graduate of 2004 and a 2007 graduate of Harvard University, returned as commencement speaker. Five years ago, he spoke to his own graduating class about gratitude and tolerance.
Once again, he spoke of those same ideals, only with a little different approach.
“First of all, this achievement is not yours alone,” Cooper told them. “This day belongs to those sitting on front of you. You, my friends, owe some people some hugs after this ceremony.”
Citing the recent presidential election, Cooper said the past year has been “overflowing with history” and the world has become a “wealth of races and backgrounds.” He asked the students to know their differences and embrace them.
“My message is, we created the world in which we live and we have the power to change it,” he said. “We must discard the ideas that make no sense.”
Cooper called the challenge ahead for the graduates as “daunting.”
“Come Monday, we’ve all got a lot more work to do,” he said. “We’ve created the world once, and we can recreate the world again together.”
Jami Worley was awarded the Outstanding Graduate award, a new award given this year recognizing a student for superior leadership and academic achievement. Vernon DeSear, vice president of marketing and business development for Manatee Healthcare System and executive director of the Manatee Memorial Hospital Foundation, was given the President’s Award of Distinction for his commitment to Manatee Community College.
After the graduates received their diplomas in the morning ceremony, Hafner instructed them to move their tassels. The crowd cheered and graduates stomped their feet on the stage so hard it shook.
“The stage is moving, let me assure you,” said Hafner as he smiled back at the enthusiastic graduates.
Following the benediction, the students filed out of the auditorium to meet with family and friends. Christa Booth, 22, was getting hugs from family as she posed for photographs. Thrilled to have finally graduated with an associate of science in dental hygiene degree, she was pondering the days ahead.
“I am so excited,” she said. “It means everything. It was a tough program, but well worth it in the end.”