BY KATHY CHANG
EDISON — During her senior year of high school, Rachel Mahoney was accepted into a four year school.
“I decided not to go because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study and didn’t feel ready to move away,” she said.
So Mahoney, of Iselin, took a look at Middlesex County College (MCC).
“MCC was affordable and close to home so I figured I might as well take my basic courses there while I figure out what I wanted to do,” she said.
On May 23, Mahoney joined her fellow classmates at the 50th annual Commencement exercises witnessed by approximately 3,500 guests in the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center in Raritan Center.
A total of 1,509 degrees and certificates were awarded to 1,476 students.
Valedictorian Sara Rose Chirco, of the Iselin section of Woodbridge, delivered the class welcome, sharing her experiences and aspirations. Chirco majored in liberal arts and sociology.
“We have all worked so hard to get here today,” she said at the commencement. “I’ve met so many hardworking people here at Middlesex.”
Some were fresh out of high school, struggling to find their passion and learning to juggle their newfound sense of educational freedom and some were moms who are raising three kids, working two jobs, taking six classes each semester and somehow managing to get straight A’s, Chirco said.
“It’s amazing what you’ve all accomplished — what we have all accomplished — here at MCC,” she said. “It is a huge success.”
Chirco said success has different meanings for different people.
“For students it’s making it to graduation or handing in a paper on time,” she said. “For athletes it’s winning the big game or further developing their skills. For parents, it’s getting you out of the house. But seriously, don’t let other people measure your success. You define your own success. We should all be proud that we are here today, no longer as students of MCC, but as graduates.”
Mahoney said her start at MCC was hard.
“One thing I have especially learned from college is persistence, to just keep trying harder when things gets tough,” she said. “From taking the required courses, I figured out that I was interested in environmental science.”
Mahoney, who majored in biology, received a $3,000 scholarship from the New Jersey Water Environment Association for her research on environmental water and bringing awareness to the growing antibiotic resistance problem and the health hazards of combined sewer overflows.
She said she is grateful for the scholarship and was afforded the research opportunity through her microbiology professor, Dr. Erin Christensen.
Mahoney said she plans to study environmental science at Rutgers University in the fall and hopes to do more research.
Jaren Haskins, of Middlesex Borough, said he started at MCC in 2007, pursuing a degree in journalism.
“Everything was going well, but my mother passed away in 2009,” he said.
School was put on the back burner while Haskins took care of things at home.
“I came back about a year and a half ago to finish my degree, which I changed to liberal arts business,” he said. “The college has polished my skills as an event planner and that is something I wish to keep moving forward with.”
Haskins said his plan is to take one more class at Middlesex in the fall and then apply to Rutgers University — Newark in the spring to pursue a degree in media arts.
“Hopefully I can get more experience at the Prudential Center,” he said. “I am very excited to take everything Middlesex gave me to the next university and help develop my skills further.
Approximately 650 members of the Class of 2017 participated in the exercises, representing the 385 graduates of August 2016, 373 of January 2017 and 718 of May 2017. Participants included several students who fulfilled the requirements for more than one degree or certificate during this academic year.
Dr. Mark McCormick, vice president for academic and student affairs, presided. Greetings were delivered by Dr. Joann La Perla-Morales, College president; Dorothy K. Power, chairman of the Board of Trustees; and Ronald G. Rios, director of the Middlesex County Board of Freeholders.
Dr. Diane Trainor, of the Natural Sciences Department, led the academic processional as grand marshal.
Dr. La Perla-Morales, sixth president of the College, conferred degrees and certificates to the graduates. Dr. McCormick presented the candidates for graduation.
Earlier in May, the College held an honors convocation for students with the highest academic achievement in each program. MCC also presented the Chambers Awards to graduates with the highest grade point average. They include Chirco; the salutatorian, Laurence W. Giordano of Edison; and Christopher J. Klapper, Edison; Dorota Matracz, Metuchen, Chelsea McNulty, Monroe Township; and Yana Titova, East Brunswick.