Hundreds of graduates swarmed Germain Arena on Sunday, black caps and gowns bobbing about as the classic “Pomp and Circumstance” began to play. Cheering erupted from the audience as the Hodges University class of 2011 took its seats knowing its time had come.
Over 600 students graduated from Hodges this year, with 300 of those participating in commencement. For many of those who received their degrees during the 2011 commencement, it was a struggle — some graduates balance school with family, while others juggled with papers and work. For some, Hodges was a second chance. For others, it was another step toward a lifetime of learning.
As the first person in her family to attend college, Janet Putnam, 36, waited patiently in line, ready to process into Germain Arena and receive her associates in paralegal studies. With three children and a full-time job, Putnam hopes her hard work sets a positive example for her children.
“I want them to see you can make changes in your life,” she said. “I’ve had people tell me I couldn’t accomplish anything, and here I am.”
When student speaker Brett Sargeant took the stage, he looked out onto the class of 2011 and challenged them to continue their pursuit of excellence even after leaving Hodges University. As an older student who received his bachelor’s degree in management, Sargeant acknowledged his class’ diversity but noted their common ‘element of excellence’ — their diplomas.
“Imagine if we each inspired one other person to pursue a college education,” Sargeant said. “Our inspiration and passion for excellence could inspire the whole world.”
Mei-Mei Chan, president and publisher of the Fort Myers News-Press Media Group, took the stage shortly after to speak to the graduates about her experience as a life-long learner.
Chan, an immigrant from southeast China, joined the News-Press after working at the Seattle Times, said the move from southeast China to Southwest Florida, from poverty to president proves that nothing is impossible.
“You represent the best of what America is,” she said. “The land of opportunity where you can become whatever you want to be. You were wise enough to know education is the key that unlocks the journey of the world.”
After the ceremony was over and students left the arena, a mother and father, both adorned in black cap and gown, held their children high in the air.
Naples residents Tarah and Travis Delashmet, both 28, decided to go back to school and supported each other throughout the progress.
“I started when I was pregnant and had my second one a year later,” Tarah Delashmet said.
Delshamat said she never thought of quitting, and knew she wanted to finish and obtain her bachelor’s in accounting.
“It feels so good,” she said, smiling.