Gateway Community College commencment sees parents graduating with children

BRIDGEPORT — Gateway Community College celebrated its 26th commencement ceremony Thursday, conferring 1,132 degrees and certificates to the class of 2018.

At Webster Bank Arena, families, friends and loved ones sat in the crowd to watch dreams come true. Most parents looked on from their seats, but a few walked the stage with their children as they accepted degrees together.

Erika Chavez Cardenas and her 21-year-old son, Sergio Rincon Chavez, started and finished college together. Cardenas started at Gateway only taking English as a Second Language courses but her son encouraged her to go for a degree.

“He gave me the little push to jump on the college,” she said.

Through school they leaned on one another to be study partners for the three classes they took together.

“We are so excited because we’ve been working so hard,” Cardenas said. “It was like working on a team. I feel more close to my son.”

After graduation Cardenas is going to pursue education at the University of Connecticut for dentistry and has been accepted to Yale Summer Enrichment Medical Academy. Chavez is transferring to Southern Connecticut State University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in computer science.

“Before I didn’t feel confident in myself, but knowing I’m graduating with my associate’s I feel like going for more,” Chavez said. “Now I’m trying to go for my bachelor’s and go for my master’s. I feel pretty excited right now, a little bit nervous but pretty excited. ... It makes it more exciting to do it together.”

The youngest graduate was 16-year-old Klotoume Kromah from West Africa. Since she was in middle school, every time she would be set to move up a grade, her teachers said she needed to go even higher. She started college when most teenagers are beginning high school.

“I feel amazed because it’s a really big achievement to be able to graduate at a very young age and to see people who are older than me graduating, I think I have a chance they might not have had and I need to use it in the best way I can,” she said.

Kromah wants to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology and go pre-med to eventually become a doctor.

During the ceremony, the college gave special awards to two community members: New Haven Mayor Toni N. Harp and Larry Bingaman, president and chief executive officer of the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority.

Harp received the President’s Award for her social justice advocacy, longtime service to New Haven and leadership as the city’s 50th mayor and first African-American woman to hold the position.

“Mayor Harp’s priorities are unwavering and fully transparent as she operates with the highest level of integrity for the people of New Haven,” said Mary Ellen Cody, dean of development and community partnerships at Gateway. “Present and growing initiatives of New Haven’s population are in the forefront of Mayor Harp’s leadership. Her compassion extends beneath the surface taking up serious concerns to solve poverty and homelessness. An advocate for women’s rights with an intention for pay equity, Mayor Harp is fully engaged.”

The college honored Bingaman by conferring an honorary associate degree in science upon him for his focus on sustainable and conscientious business practices and deep involvement in the New Haven community. Bingaman serves on the President’s Executive Council for Gateway and sponsored a chemistry lab at the college.

Gateway alumnus and adjunct professor Edwin Martinez delivered the keynote address, speaking to graduates about achieving success when faced with doubt and sacrifices.

“I don’t belive in luck and if you’re here today, luck has nothing to do with it,” Martinez said. “This is intentional. I urge you to succeed until you have nothing in common with those you have something in common with today and when you get to the doors of success, pry them open. There are two types of people and we all want the same thing, except one wants it more.”

Martinez grew up and lives in the Fair Haven section of New Haven and graduated from Wilbur Cross High School. He sat in the same position 17 years ago as 2018’s graduates did Thursday.

“I can’t tell you who exactly who spoke at my graduation or what the keynote speaker said or everyone who grabbed the microphone, but I remember telling myself I’d like to hear from someone who has walked in my shoes, someone who had graduated from Gateway and reached some level of success,” Martinez said. “Be careful what you ask for, because life will put a microphone in front of you.”

He added graduates should strive for the highest level of success because their graduation is a dream come true for many — more than only them.

“What you have accomplished here today is not for you, it’s for those people who support you, who’s dreams you will now fulfill and for those who will come after you who you can show it is possible,” Martinez said.