Hudson County Community College 2016 Graduates Come from Near and Far, All Are ‘HCCC Proud’

Posted: 5/17/2016
Jennifer Christopher 201-360-4061 jchristopher@hccc.edu or Roger Jones 201-200-1080 rj@j-a-c.com

May 16, 2016, Jersey City, NJ – This Thursday, May 19, Hudson County Community College  (HCCC) will confer degrees and honor the HCCC Class of 2016 at its 39th Annual Commencement Exercises. The event will be held at 6:00 p.m. at New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Prudential Hall in Newark, NJ.

HCCC President Glen Gabert, Ph.D. said many of this year’s 1,150 graduates have had challenging paths in the pursuit of their degrees and certificates. “The College is so proud of these men and women, and for the determination, commitment and persistence they have demonstrated while working full-time, raising children, and overcoming illnesses and other challenges,” Dr. Gabert said. “We are also proud of their families and friends, and the HCCC faculty and staff who have supported and encouraged them throughout their journey.”

Viannelly Cortorreal of Jersey City was determined to manage her full-time job while retaining a 4.0 grade-point average and supporting her son. Although she already earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Saint Peter’s University and studied at the Teacher’s College of Columbia University, she enrolled at Hudson County Community College to pursue her degree in business administration. She plans to attend law school, and down the line earn her doctorate degree in history.

Marilu Ferrer had her first son shortly after graduating high school. As a single mom and financial provider to her four children, she sacrificed her hope of attaining a college education so she could work. Ms. Ferrer believes that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams and will be presented with her associate degree Thursday evening. She states she is proud that her children can look up to her as a role model, and wants them to know they should never settle for less.

Kelli Frey of Hobokendreamed of one day graduating college, and that dream has finally become a reality. Marriage and children led to her postponing her college dream, and in the interim, she earned her CPR and EMT certification and worked as a volunteer with her local ambulance squad. On her first day as a volunteer, she used her CPR skills to save a life. Although she delivered babies and attended to 9/11 victims, it was her mother’s passing that motivated Ms. Frey to pursue a degree and she enrolled in nursing. The twists and turns of life placed roadblocks in her college path, and she left her studies for work. It was when her father passed that she committed to fulfilling his philosophy of always going after one’s dreams. In 2013, she enrolled at HCCC to become a medical assistant, which she has now accomplished, having worked two jobs and had the support and encouragement of her children, boyfriend and HCCC faculty. She plans to pursue a nursing degree.

Esperanza Garces of Jersey City said that when she looks at her associate degree, she cannot help but smile. The single mother of two was working full-time job when she returned to school after 19 years. With the support of her children, she put on her backpack and headed off for her new adventure in education. She says her two-and-a-half years at HCCC expanded her knowledge, solidified her confidence and brought her new friends ... as well as her degree in business.

Zakia Hmamou of East Newark sees attaining her Associate in Science degree in Engineering Science as a start to her new life in the United States. A student at HCCC from 2011 to 2015, she and her husband – who will also graduate this Thursday with the same degree – both started their studies in ESL Level I. Throughout her studies, the mother of two small children worked as secretary for the College’s Center for Online Learning. Both Zakia and her husband are now pursuing their bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering at New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Hassan Ouanir of Jersey City came to this country from Morocco, where he had studied mathematics in college. Not knowing English and cultural challenges had him struggling as he worked in various places here in the U.S. In 2011, he began his studies at HCCC by enrolling in ESL classes. A HCCC professor and one of Hassan’s roommates inspired him to pursue and earn his math degree. He stated that at the College he came to learn many things he needed to accomplish great success, and he met “amazing” students and faculty who helped build his confidence. “I’m forever grateful,” Mr. Ouanir said.

Dilani Manickaraj of Jersey City and her sister Puvitha are graduating HCCC together. Dilani began her college studies at HCCC with ESL and basic math courses. Majoring in accounting, she earned a 3.7 grade-point average and was on the Dean’s List; she credits her professors for leading her on the best path to achieve her goals. Dilani and Puvitha (who majored in biology and was also on the Dean’s List) are the first in their family to earn college degrees. Dilani will attend New Jersey City University on a presidential scholarship.

Patrick Markey of Jersey City is a single dad who cares for his two young children. While enrolled full-time in the HCCC Culinary Arts Institute Baking & Pastry degree course, Mr. Markey also worked a 3-to-11 a.m. shifts so he could not only financially support his family, but also be there to assist his children with their homework and take care of their other needs.

Cynthia Parrish of Newark attended New Jersey’s Caldwell College (now University) after graduating high school in 1983. Life challenges prevented her from completing her studies at the time. However, she was determined not to let obstacles, including blindness in one eye, prevent her from her goal. So the mother of two and grandmother of three enrolled at HCCC as a full-time student while working full-time. While pursuing her degree in Restaurant Management through the HCCC Culinary Arts Institute, she was a member of the National Society for Leadership and Success, and the English Honor Society (Sigma Kappa Delta) and made the Dean’s List. She plans to go on to earn a bachelor’s degree at Fairleigh Dickinson University and to own a banquet hall.

Joseph Pedragon of Kearny left HCCC after his first few semesters to become a police officer with the New Jersey Department of Corrections. After nearly two years in that arena, he was motivated to complete his degree and re-enrolled at the College. His quest in attaining his degree in accounting was complicated by financial hardships, the responsibilities of fatherhood and his own health issues . He believes that in order to succeed, you must be willing to fight – to overcome any obstacles and to not settle for that which other people think is best for you.

Chanel Monique Reeves of Jersey City left her home in Alabama in 1984 with the dream of becoming a superstar singer – a dream she has not abandoned. She began pursuing her degree in psychology by taking two classes a night at HCCC while working at PaineWebber some 20 years ago. With her sights set on graduating in 2012, Ms. Reeves was diagnosed with cancer and spent two more years undergoing chemotherapy and rehabilitation. She is grateful and honored to be graduating this week, and celebrating her 50th birthday next month. “Thank you, HCCC; it’s been a wonderful journey,” Ms. Reeves said.

Evelyn Rue of Bayonne is a New York City native who was once determined to become a ballerina. After attending New York’s famed School of Performing Arts, Ms. Rue went on to dance with the Joffrey Ballet, The School of American Ballet, Alvin Ailey, and in the Broadway musical “Cats” and Radio City Music Hall’s “Christmas Spectacular.” Despite these accomplishments, she never completed her high school diploma and as the mother of two sons – both college graduates – she was determined to earn her high school diploma and graduated in 2004 as valedictorian. An entrepreneur in the entertainment field, Ms. Rue decided to pursue a new career and is graduating HCCC with her degree in Criminal Justice. She will attend Rutgers University and hopes to go to law school. “Hudson County Community College has given me something nobody can take away – an education. Thank you for making me a better, stronger, and brighter person,” she stated.

Nakiya Santos enrolled in HCCC after high school, but left when she learned she was pregnant. Encouraging her to stay, Dr. Ferdinand Orock, HCCC Professor, told her he believed she would return one day. In the interim, she went to trade school and obtained her medical assistant certificate and worked in that capacity for 12 years. In 2013, she was laid off from work and as the single mom of two children (one with special needs), she decided it was time to fulfill her goal. Putting her fears aside, she re-enrolled at HCCC in 2014 and majored in Human Services. During a chance encounter with Prof. Orock her first week back, he assured her that she would finish this time. A member of the National Honors Society of Leadership and Success, Ms. Santos is also a Peer Leader. “HCCC has given me a feeling of importance and the ability to express who I was in the past and who I am destined to become,” she stated.