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On Wednesday evening, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey addressed 730 students and their well-wishers at Mount Wachusett Community College’s 52nd Commencement.

On Wednesday evening, 730 students were awarded nearly 800 degrees and certificates as they graduated from Mount Wachusett Community College.

The gathered graduates at the College’s 52nd commencement were reminded by Keynote Speaker Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey of the hard work that they applied to make it to this day. Healey focused on the graduate’s own stories of perseverance, whether that meant working while going to school, raising a family while getting their degree, postponing their education to serve in the military or pushing themselves to return to school in the first place.

“You rolled up your sleeves. You worked hard and no one can take that away from you. But you also had The Mount at your sides and a school that told you you were not alone in this,” said Healey.

It was this commitment to their own education but also the greater community that drew her to speak at The Mount, she said. Because even though the graduates were working hard in their own lives that did not stop them from giving back to others.

“Despite all the demands on your time you still found time to give back to others and uphold this school’s national reputation for community service,” said Healey who commended the students for giving back nearly 150,000 volunteer hours in the last year. “You are changing lives day in and day out.”

Healey encouraged the graduates to continue giving back whether it is in the workforce or continuing to volunteer at their next school.

“You know your education belongs not just to you but to your community. That is really important,” said Healey. “I know you will find ways to give back to this community.”

In closing, the Attorney General said she could not give a graduation speech without passing along some kind of advice. Her words of advice included “use common sense” and “trust your gut” but Healey focused on the need to connect with others and not pre-judge them.

“It’s so important that we talk to one another… and talk to people that are different from ourselves,” she said.

President James Vander Hooven kicked off his address to students with a selfie.

In his remarks at his first commencement at The Mount, President James Vander Hooven commended the graduates for their accomplishments and reminded them of what they have truly learned during their time at MWCC: strategies. While you may have picked up some facts along the way, he told the graduates, learning strategies is what higher education is truly about. These strategies that served the graduates throughout their education are now the same ones that will be invaluable while facing future life or workplace challenges.

“By being here tonight, you have proven yourselves capable of utilizing tried and true strategies for achieving educational success. Whatever your next steps might be … use the strategies you have learned here to your advantage,” said President Vander Hooven.

Student Speaker Cynthia Doyle talked about her life as a part-time student and full-time employee at MWCC. The college is a huge part of her family, she said, with her mother having graduated from the school 32 years ago and her daughter having just finished her first year at MWCC.

At the age of 46, Doyle is graduating after four years of pushing herself through late nights and classwork on top of her daily challenges. This story of perseverance is not hers alone, however, but belongs to every student in the audience, she said. During her time working in the Student Accounts office, she has seen firsthand the hard work of many members of the graduating class.

“I am extremely proud to have been a resource for you and I am extremely proud to work for a college that will go to great lengths to set students up for success and will continue to provide support for generations to come,” said Doyle. “I have watched us all grow and mature, from the first semester walking through those doors to the strong confident men and women sitting here now.”

But neither the journey nor the struggle is over with this graduation, she said.

“What advice I give you today is to keep going forward, it doesn’t end here. Whatever it is that you want to strive for, whatever goal you want to achieve, it is doable, continue to go and do it. There will be obstacles. There will be doubters. There will be mistakes. But with hard work there is no limit,” Doyle said.

In addition to the speakers, business leader and community volunteer Wayne Canty received Mount Wachusett Community College’s 2017 Service Above Self Award. The award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions within the 29 cities and towns that make up the college’s service area. Canty is highly involved in the region’s business and volunteer community through both his business Heat Trace Products and his activity on numerous boards and commissions.

Canty talked about his beginnings working in a factory from the age of 17 to earn money to go to school. During that time, he went to what was then called a junior college and would now be called a community college.

“I’ve been there where you have been; where you are. At least for a few minutes, I can be the poster boy or poster old man of success coming through the community college system. This one here I would consider to be the Ivy League of community colleges. Congratulations,” Canty told the graduates

State Representative Susannah Whipps was recognized as Mount Wachusett Community College’s 2017 Alumna of the Year. Created in 1989, the award recognizes a Mount Wachusett Community College graduate who has exhibited exceptional career leadership, service to community and commitment to the college. Whipps is a local business owner and has served in government positions since being elected to the Athol Board of Selectman in 2005. Most recently, she was elected as State Rep. in 2015 for the Second Franklin District.

“Learning isn’t a contest or competition. It should be a journey and I’ve had a fabulous journey and the reason I’ve had such a fabulous journey is because of the foundation here at Mount Wachusett Community College,” said Whipps. “I felt a part of something when I was here at Mount Wachusett Community College.”

Jasson Alvarado Gomez was presented with the Trustees Award for his service this year on the MWCC Board of Trustees. The President’s Key Award for academic excellence was presented to Accounting major Cynthia A. Boucher of Ashburnham and Medical Laboratory Technology major Lara E. White of Lunenburg. Michel L Cocuzza of Winchendon was presented with the Dean’s Key, which is awarded to graduates for outstanding service to the college community.

Professor Emeritus status was bestowed posthumously upon Ed Stevens who passed away in April after teaching in the disciplines of physics, mathematics and engineering for over 50 years at MWCC.

Area graduates include:

Massachusetts

 

Arlington

Certificates: Raquel Maurice

 

Ashburnham

Associates: Linda J Anderson, Megan J Barker, Cassandra Leigh Benes, Megan Elizabeth Bernard, Cynthia A Boucher, Cassandra Cardillo, Lynne Galvin, Rebecca L Gardner, Jennifer Marie Guerriero, William Robert Hoeksema, Dylan Robert Mei, Lisa M St John, Rachel Celina Vargeletis

Certificates: Patrick R Brownell, Lynne Galvin, Donna M Slocum

 

Ashby

Associates: Kyna Joan Gilmore, Kimberly M Greig, Aaron B Kenney, Carl William Selmer

Certificates: Victoria Elizabeth Cummings

 

Athol

Associates: Nicholas  Alvarez, Anastasia  Anderholm, Samantha M Arsenault, Zachary  Bergquist, Heather Christine Chadsey, Sarah A Clark, Jessie A Corbett, Simon  Dufresne, Aurora A Erali, Troy Christopher Godin, Jason  Hicks-Greenough, MaRyea  Jennings, Isabelle C Johnson, Jessi H Kuehl, Cassondra L Lavigne, Lindsey  Lee, Sierra  Lopez, Kari  McGivern, Hannah M Pachalis, Sarah B Rattet, Cameron Jon Raymond, Courtney  Roche, Anthony  Rodriguez, William John Sawin, Donna  Songer, Alejita  Velez, Adam  Verock, Mathieu  Woodbury

Certificates: Allison R Aucoin, Danyelle M Bushee, Samantha M Farley, Luis A Rivera, Anthony Rodriguez, Russell P Vescovi, Matthew White

 

Auburn

Associates: Shawn F Bello, Megan Elizabeth York

 

Ayer

Associates: Andrea C Inostroza, Katherine Jordan, Patricia E Kelley, Michael J Murphy, Joseph Santiago, Caitlyn Marie Sherry, Heather E Sinofsky

Certificates: Kelly MacNeil

 

Baldwinville

Associates: Tiffany R Barsamian, Kayla E Boutell, Tara DeWitte, Phylicia K Duguay, Laura Lyman, Caleb Simeon Matson, Alannah Marie McDonald, Kayla D Rameau, Kyle W Salam

Certificates: Samantha E Whalen

 

Barre

Associates: Christina M Ackert, Sean W Craig, Jordan M LaBelle, Matthew R LaPointe, Alexandria Morrissey, Sarah Jane O’Sullivan, Liam J Scanlon, Gabrielle Susan Walker

Certificates: Ann Giaquinto Scott, Jordan M LaBelle, Santo Mammone, Jayne Patrice Proctor

 

Belchertown

Associates: Christine A Brown

 

Berlin

Associates: Graham Bateman

 

Bernardston

Associates: William M Andrews

 

Bolton

Associates: Kayleigh M Cavanaugh, Daniel C Wuorio

Certificates: Peter S Hopkins

 

Boston

Associates: Wei He Yiu

 

Boxborough

Associates: Conner Dempsey

Certificates: Susan M LaForest

 

Brookfield

Associates: Mary K Faugno Wiles, Meghan Janice Robidoux

 

Buzzards Bay

Associates: Joshua T Goliber

Cherry Valley

Associates: Stacy L Riel-Rigiero

 

Clinton

Associates: Megan F Ballenger, Eva Beland, Larry F Ciarletta, Laura Louise Coldwell, Colleen M Hannen, Nicholas Y Hernandez, Brittany A Hutchinson, Jeffrey Jean-Baptiste, Mailoan Nguyen, Erin E O’Connell, Elizabeth D Silva, Jason  Tovar

Certificates: Megan F Ballenger, Megan A Pasquale, Stephanie E Tor

 

Dracut

Associates: Shelmith N. Karimi, David K Mungai, Sheila M Salaverry

Certificates: Alice W Ndungu

 

Dudley

Associates: Stacy M. Stackrow

 

East Templeton

Associates: Lisa J. Delorme, Colleen Janice Moran, Courtney Lynn Wentz

Erving

Certificates: Justine N Pottinger

 

Fitchburg

Associates: Marissa Susan Abell, Nana A Adwubi, Stephanie M Arnold, Mavis NS Barnor, Kayla K Blanchette, Courtney K Bouchard, Emily Morgan Boudreau, Colline D Butler, Shane  Carroll, Carlington C Clarke, Daniel P Clifford, Cassandra E Croft, Aritha  Daniels, Brittany  DuBois, Michael  Erhagbai, Jarelin Gesely Escobar, Christopher William Farmer, Maria Lucia Ferreira, Leah Rose Fletcher, Julie  Fluet, Eugenio Angel Garcia, Eunices  Gonzalez, Elida K Griffin, Leonela A Grullon, Jacqueline Amanda Healy, JoAnna L Heng, Kaylyn  Herold, Kayla J Hickey, Allesandra L Hollenkamp, Joshua L Irfan, Godwill  Karngong, Grace N Kiigi, Vanayda M Knight, Gianna Lucia LaPosta, Patricia J Lillie, Katelyn M Lingus, Nicole M Maldonado, Linda M Martel, Ashley R McKinnon, Yemni T Mendez, Bria R Monette-Harris, John  Moua, Sharon M Nabulime, Alicia  Navarro, Ritchie Alan Nelson, Sevina V Ortiz, Kris J Osgood, Estefanie  Palma, Ashley  Perez, Marymar  Perez Cruz, Nathan A Pierce, April L Quirk, Nataly  Ramos, Brian  Reyes, Faith  Robinett, Eduardo  Rodriguez, Nicolas R Romero, Deanna M Rossi, Megan  Rossi, Rose M Sanchez Pratts, Katherine Judith Sandoval, Samnath  Say, Amy E Shattuck, Stefan M Sicard, Giovani  Soto, Michael  Soto, Augustine J Tetteh-Quarshie, Ashley  Thibault, Skylyn  Torres, Tatiana Vazquez, Crystal A Witz, Staci L Wolski, Fuechee  Yang

 

Certificates: Vilmarie  Alvarado, Meghgan A Beauvais, Tamu L Brobbey, Michael O Bueno, Christofer  Butler, Salvador  De La Cruz, Matthew J DiPasquale, Jamaal R Dockery, Joseph Michael Favini, Nikita Rose Gilbert, Nicole M Mattson, Kimberly Lynn Mertell, Haley R Mullen, Alicia  Navarro, Sevina V Ortiz, Wilfred  Perez, Yarilis  Perez, Charmaine M Radzewicz, Sylvia  Ramirez, Diosmar  Reynoso, Eduardo  Rodriguez, Stephanie A Santangelo, Tonia M Sheridan-Hamblin, Marry K Sivilaythong, Colleen M Suarez, Augustine J Tetteh-Quarshie, Jessica L Theriault, Monica R Wirickx, Fuechee  Yang

 

Framingham

Associates: Hanna Gyamfi, Simone M de Souza

 

Gardner

Associates: Leslie Ann Ackers, Raina  Aiello, Kristin J Anderson, Samantha Mariel Badia, Scott  Batchelder, Benjamin K Blake, Christine C Boisvert, Destiny D Boisvert, Emily A Bradshaw, Taylor M Butler, Chelsea May Caron, Megan E Casteel, Rebekah L Cohen, Ashley Marie Comley, Donald T Connors, Cynthia M Cormier, Elizabeth A Crete, Timothy  Cronin, Harli L Curtis, Rebekkah  Dietz, Wendy A Dobbins, Viclinepon S Duangsay, Brittany A Dufresne, Britnii J Dyer, Acacia A Fisher, Samantha  Gravlin, Jose Manuel Herrera, Erika A Holm, Jessica Noel James, Latisha  Johnson, Nicole Brianna Joseph, Alyssa M Juliano, Shannon M Kelley, Kendyll Marie-William Knight, Lisa K Kowalczyk, Kristina M LaBombard, Samantha JM LeBlanc, Jordan Robert Learmonth, Krista  Lennerton, Anthony C MacKenzie, Douglas  Marroquin, Jessica l McKay, Kaitlyn Marie Mearn, Keith A Melanson, Marguerite Elizabeth Nicholas, Charles M Njaaga, Olivia  Ouellet, Kevin W Oxford, Melissa  Paulhus, Julia R Pitre, Nicholas  Powell, Estephany S Rodriguez, Michael T Sadowski, Lani D Scanlan, Julia N Scott, Tracy J Shackett, LaKeya  Springfield, Jerrika  St John, Deborah-Jean  Strachan, Amy M Tervo, Eva  Tolman-Brown, Laurie  Tucci, Scott  Vieira, Cameron  Walsh, Melissa S Wright

 

Certificates: Kyle J Blanchette, Christopher T Blouin, Tanya Lee Botelho, Jessica L Cahill, Sadiya M Clark, Ramsey E Clayter, Harli L Curtis, Brittany A Dufresne, Curtis Hall, Lisa K Kowalczyk, Grace Kraft, Elizabeth P LaPan, Angella  Nakanwagi, Lee Ann M Orsalock, Janice  Perez, Emma L Phillips, Sarah E Pierce-Legassey, Kari L Quinlan, Deborah-Jean  Strachan, Nathan A Thibault, Scott  Vieira, Kathleen D White

 

Grafton

Associates: Jonathan Cheney, Megan Leigh McNeil

 

Greenfield

Associates: Katherine Newell

Certificates: Katherine Newell

 

Groton

Associates: Stephanie J Casey

Certificates: Courtney N Monaco
Hardwick

Associates: Cody Allen Braese, Kaitlyn Elizabeth Malin

 

Harvard

Associates: Jari Squire

 

Haverhill

Certificates: Jennifer A Koinange

 

Holden

Associates: Michael E Dodd, Shannon E Drohan, Carolyn M Felicio, Faith Kurtz

Certificates: Cheyanne Elizabeth Rigney

 

Hubbardston

Associates: Victoria R Allen, Tyler J Charland, Andrew David Como, Gabrielle Rose Deloge, Alison  Germagian, Jessica A Horgan, Andrew Amorntap Horsung, Stevie  LaBelle, Adam James McHugh, Jana Christin Murphy, Amy L Pasakinskas, Mason William Prentiss, Eden  Shaveet, Jareth D Skelton, Lauren  Stohler, Evan  Tucker, Jasmine  Welch

Certificates: Matthew R Brooks, Sheila Marie DeMalia

 

Hudson

Associates: Lorna Arimboh Tambi

 

Lancaster

Associates: Nicole Boufford, Stanley Louis Choruzek, Sherry Cutler, Matthew Harris, Haley  Isaacs

 

Leicester

Associates: Jessika Lyn Little

 

Leominster

Associates: Donovan A Aboal-Caceres, Samantha  Aviles, Kahlil  Beauregard, Carlotta Y Belle, Samantha L Berry, Brianna C Boulay, Brittney  Brown, Elizabeth A Brown, Guece B Clermont, Karina N Colon, Kimberly P Contreras, Sarah L Costa, Nicholas Robert Crawford, Nellie R D’Albora, Christopher Paul Dagle, Omar  De Jesus, Carrie F DeCosta, Lisa M Doherty, William  Doyon, Samantha L Elliott, Precious E Erving, Mikayla L Esposito, Yolandese  Exceus, Anna John Gamaya, Olivia P Gianakis, Melissa  Gonzalez, Kimberly A Goulston, Galadriel D Hahn, Michael Edward Harris, Felicia D Harwood, Nhat T Hoang, Alana Beth Jones, Dana Raymond Jones, Jennifer E Jones, Lauryn E Kelley, Jocelyn Marley Klein, Julie M LeClair, Rafaela Oliveira Lopes, Taisha  Lopez, Mariaris  Luna, Daniel J Mahoney, Isaac  Michail, Maisa J Moreira, Iddriss  Mutari, Maysha I Peckham, Mark A Ramos, Selena Michelle Ray, Gilbert  Revesai, Felicia  Rice, Maria M Rivera, Kyria M Salgado, Samantha A Seidl, Erika Vanessa Seijo Gonzalez, Isadora  Silva Andrade, Ellen E Smith, Joseph F Sottile, Haley  Szidat, Taylor Lee Thibodeau, Veronica  Valladares, Olga  Vlah, Gemini M Walter, Danielle Elizabeth Waseleski, Jonathan T Wentworth, Kelsi S Whittemore, Letecia Winters

 

Certificates: Alham  Ajez, Marisol  Alejandro Oquendo, Romolo S Cataldo, Allison M Correa, Denny L Cruz, Omar  De Jesus, Alondra  DeLeon Guimaraes, Ingrid J Del Orbe, Kiana I Delgado, Nelida  Figueroa Lopez, Felicia G Freel, Danielle Faye Johns, Donna M King, Jared Steven Kuczwara, Emily Patricia Lemieux, Taisha  Lopez, Mariaris  Luna, Yamara  Martinez, Isaac  Michail, Marcela C Minas, Iddriss  Mutari, Florisa A Ramos, Elaine C Rice, Karla  Rivera, Teresa  Silveira, Yonaly  Tavarez, Tanairi  Valentin, Autumn L Wendel, Molly M Winand

 

Littleton

Associates: Haley Lee Saarinen

 

Lowell

Associates: Vises Horth, Beth Karimi Mwangi, Mamawa Dauretta Sannoh

Certificates: Akua Agyeiwaa Quardson, Stella W Mwangi, Peter W Wangondu

 

Lunenburg

Associates: Anne M Allan, Hayes J Amaral, Christina J Bernatchez, Meredith A Billiter, Anthony Michael Cintron, Jarrod Mark Haas, Nicole D Ignazi, Bonnie E Logan, Szerena J Moyen-vonRosenvinge, Kamerin P Munroe, Jodi L Peternel, Valerie P Poladian, Amber L Rivera, Mija L Waluck, Lara E White

 

Certificates: Carter Robert Filiau, Trystan E McFetridge, Gail Mercier, Adam M Nano, Jillian M Smith

 

Malden

Associates: Taryn K Graybeal

 

Marlborough

Associates: Courtney R Aulden, Christina L Knox, Jose Saquich, Evangelia S Sunberg, Brenda L Warren

Certificates: Paola Andrea Molina

 

Maynard

Associates: Andrea K Lontine

 

Methuen

Associates: Alicia Rose Schiller

 

Millbury

Associates: Eduardo A Freitas

 

New Braintree

Certificates: Caitlin R Stevens

 

New Salem

Associates: Shawnee A Lewis-Phillips

 

North Brookfield

Associates: Keri-Ann J Harvey, Sara R LeBel, Kyleen Roman

 

Oakham

Associates: Elizabeth M Mahoney, Aaron Jeffrey Witkos

 

Orange

Associates: Jennifer M Ballou, Keira Bradshaw, Maris Clement, Matthew Crumbley, Cynthia R Doyle, Benjamin Gilmore, Julia Griffin, Lisa A Korpiewski, Natasha Ledoux, Hillary D Leh, Rachel M Lundgren, Brianna Marsh

Certificates: Cynthia R Doyle, Eliza Graton, Anna M Morin, Gregory Suprise

 

Paxton

Associates: Kayla A Shabo

Certificates: Nga T Le, Valerie Schiller

 

Pepperell

Associates: Julia R Overhiser, Rachel Mae Pinney, Shannyn A Pomeroy, Elizabeth A Sappet, William F Stone

Certificates: William Ronzio

 

Petersham

Associates: Ryan L Lawrence, Rachel K Sexton

 

Phillipston

Associates: Stephanie Jane Girouard, Kathleen Julius, Tyana Kandi Maki, Brooke Pacheco, Hayleigh D Sundstrom

 

Princeton

Associates: Christopher M Martin

 

Royalston

Associates: Kelly E Frazier, Dylan C Hall, Ashley R Sawyer

 

Russell

Associates: Sherry N Whitman

 

Rutland

Associates: Courtney A Champlin, Asher A Crane, Katelyn L Kane, Sabrina A Pettigrew

Certificates: Lisa Lange, Laura Teves

 

Salem

Certificates: Ashley Ann Ferris

 

Sharon

Associates: Robert Hamilton Davenport Pisarchuk

 

Shirley

Associates: Matthew D Callahan, Katelin Griffin, Joseph John Holmes, Timothy F Kelly, Sarah Soto

Certificates: Bert A Dawson, Julie M Henderson

 

Shrewsbury

Associates: Katie E Cooper, Courtney B Hurley

 

Somerville

Certificates: Alfred Pierre-Noel

 

South Lancaster

Associates: Khaien B Donawa

 

Spencer

Associates: Amarilys G Lozada, Elizabeth A O’Mara, Shannon Lynn Wolanski

Certificates: Linda Maher

 

Springfield

Associates: James N Mugwanja

 

Sterling

Associates: Cameron Jewett Alden, Miles Robert Gray, Valerie H Maloney, Amanda L Nourse, Neil Rosinski

Certificates: Sirirath J Chanhsy, Christine Wagner

 

Sutton

Associates: Kristina Nicole Pelletier

 

Templeton

Associates: Lynnea Joy Anderholm, Devin  Bellis, Cynthia J Bettencourt, Jason  Boski, Elizabeth J Conner, Allison  Cormier, Katherine Iris Goguen, Zoe H Hammond, Timothy Shane Hazelton, Daniel R Martin, Benjamin Thomas May, Jacob Ryan Parent, Shaina R Wallace, Eric Wilson, Sarah E Young

Certificates: Holly S D’Angelo, Angelica Mona De Los Rios, Daniel R Martin, Jonathan K Martin

 

Townsend

Associates: Jeffrey A Garafola, Dylan B Jones, Julie E LaFleur, John J Lord, Anna Christine Roberts, Rachel L Sullivan, Tiffany Ann Vincenti

Certificates: Kerri Lynn Burton, Pamela M Corbett, John J Lord

 

Ware

Associates: Leah Downer Trudeau

 

Warwick

Certificates: Deena Marie LeBlanc, Samantha M Peters

 

Webster

Associates: Mackenzie Christensen, Esther Gichuhi

 

West Boylston

Associates: Alex J Gariepy

 

West Brookfield

Associates: Peter Samuel French

 

West Groton

Associates: Karen M D’Agostino

 

West Townsend

Associates: Tyler C Gribi, Emily Seeley, Scot Sullivan

 

Westminster

Associates: Nicholas R Auffrey, Jared James Aveni, Corey P Boucher, Jonathan Chernoch, Kaitlyn A Gagne, Travis J Martin, Joshua S McDermott, Dillon Thomas Morgan, Nicole R

Skinner

Certificates: Jessica N Goguen, Joslyn Emily Winter

 

Winchendon

Associates: Madeline M Allard, Brandon William Beals, Lauren  Bennett, Jonathan P Blodgett, Mariah  Boisvert, Kelsey  Bosselait, Philip  Brady, Samantha  Brooks, Ashley E Brunt, Daniel  Caputi, Jaymisen M Carr, Natalie  Chretien, Cayla M Clinkscale, Michel L Cocuzza, Kristen A Cormier, Leslie A Cosentino, Robert W Courtemanche, Melanie  Cranfill, Marygrace  Daly, Joel T DeVelis, Riley  Elliott, Mark T Gagnon, Stephanie J Goodwin, Bridget  Harrington, Becca  Hill, Lindsay K Laporte, Sarah E Larson, Joseph Daniel LeBlanc, Di  Lin, Ryan Patrick May, Brity T Murphy, Trevor Goodwin Page, Iva  Quinn, Kelsey  Schecker, Kristina D Snay, Gordon Dale Tuttle, Jonathan D Zukowski

 

Certificates: Katherynn R Alden, Cassandra  Anderson, Michel L Cocuzza, Joseph A Duerr, Jana S Egan, Becca  Hill, Jay  Pereira, Yaribeth  Torres

 

Woodville

Certificates: Karen  Putnam

 

Worcester

Associates: Aaron A Aikins, Jasson  Alvarado Gomez, Monica  Boafo, Albert J Encarnacion, Judith I Hunter, Joseph K Kum, Lydia Varesa London, Kevin  Lynch, Eliud M Mwangi, John-Mark M Njenga, Opeyemi Sakiru Odewale, Courtney N Paradise, Nga  Pham, Guerda  Pierre, Marta  Szczubelek, Constance  Tazelaar, Jessica B Tobar, Shana L Tobin

 

Certificates: Akosua O Amoako, Jackline  Dartey, Albert J Encarnacion, Faviola D Flores, Jennifer Marie Gelinas, Buruburu  Kagotho, Jason M Kiragu, Shakesha  Thompson

 

California

 

San Diego

Associates: Erika L Stamas

 

Connecticut

 

Danielson

Associates: Joseph Francis Lecza

 

New Hampshire

 

Fitzwilliam

Associates: Casey R Bedingfield, Julia Josephine Roma McHugh

Certificates: Kenneth F Roy

 

Greenfield

Associates: Andrea M Langley

 

Greenville

Certificates: Brianna M McDougal

 

Hampstead

Associates: Nicole N Reynolds

 

Hooksett

Associates: Jason M Wright

 

Jaffrey

Associates: Amanda B Boucher, Shauna M Chamberlain, Rebekah Chiasson, Rebecca J Myott, Katrina K Ung, Paula D Whitcomb

Certificates: Margaret E Hart-Smith, Kaitlynn Shea

 

Keene

Associates: Ryan J Firmin

 

Nashua

Associates: Richard  Schaufenbil

 

New Ipswich

Associates: Tatsiana  Brovina, Clayton W Kuusisto, Aimee Joy Matson

Certificates: Tatsiana  Brovina, Shannon R Kuusisto

 

Richmond

Associates: Angela M Haynes, Jennifer R Haynes, Margaret M Laplume

 

Rindge

Associates: Andrew Michael Hoenig, Breanna Marie McAvoy, Gregory A McAvoy, Manzall  Mitchell, Bridget Troy Murphy

Certificates: Jade  Hill, Lee-Ann  Johnson

Temple

Certificates: Danielle R O’Brien

 

Washington

 

Monroe

Associates: Helena  Santee

Joe LeBlanc went through MWCC’s STEM Starter Academy and is set to attend WPI this fall.

Four Mount Wachusett Community College students are set to continue their studies this fall at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Joe LeBlanc, Jonathan Chernoch, Zachary Bergquist and Faith Kurtz have been accepted to WPI for the fall semester.

Joe came to the school through the STEM Starter Academy that launches students into college the summer before their first full year with two free classes and a $1,000 stipend to allow them to focus on their studies. Joe built not only his knowledge, but his confidence at MWCC.

“If I went to WPI straight out of high school I think I would have felt overwhelmed at first. Going here first allowed me to get over that,” he said. “And when they came here I thought all their projects were really interesting and I wanted to be a part of that.”

Jonathan said he feels ready for the next step as well.

“I feel very prepared with the material that I have learned here,” said Jonathan who plans to go on to get his Ph. D. in Physics. “You can definitely transition pretty seamlessly to what they are doing there.”

Jonathan Chernoch is set to attend WPI this fall.

The two students were deeply involved with a budding partnership between MWCC and WPI that has been ushered in by WPI Alumnus and MWCC Assistant Professor of Math and Physics Peter Olszak. Over the past three years, he has been working to connect MWCC students with the Worcester school, bringing current WPI students in for presentations and instilling in MWCC students that their education at the college prepares them to go anywhere.

Joe, of Westminster, took part in one of those labs and said that seeing the culture of WPI up close was as helpful as realizing that he could handle the technical aspects of what the students at WPI were tackling.

“Seeing what I would be doing there first hand allowed me to finalize my decision,” said Joe who volunteered in a lab at WPI. “I began to feel like I was a part of WPI and that really helped me finalize my decision.”

Zachary Bergquist is set to attend WPI this fall after getting his high school diploma and Associate’s degree through MWCC’s Pathways program.

The two other students set to transfer to WPI, Zachary Bergquist (from Athol) and Faith Kurtz (from Holden), will be graduating this week not only with their Associate’s Degree but also their high school diploma through the Pathways Early College Innovation School that is operated out of MWCC’s Gardner campus. This program gives students the opportunity to earn their high school diploma and an Associate degree while completing their junior and senior year taking courses at MWCC.

Zachary said that this program has allowed him to get an immersive college experience while completing high school. He said that the fast pace of Pathways at MWCC, which included accelerated classes that met very frequently but for a short period of time, has prepared him for the kind of studying he expects to encounter during his time at WPI, which has seven week course lengths.

“I would rather have that fast pace without a lot of courses together so that you can focus on getting the most quality work you can,” said Zachary who wants to launch an innovative hardware company after he graduates. “I think there is a way to make it a lot more accessible and economical to get technology out to working people earlier.”

Faith Kurtz plans to put the engineering knowledge she will get from WPI to work helping others.

Also a Pathways student, Faith has been accepted to attend WPI this fall to study Electrical Engineering. As part of her application, she created an original dual-action hand pump design that was reviewed and refined with an engineer at Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. Upon coming to MWCC, Faith threw herself into the community and logged over 200 volunteer hours in her first six months; embracing the motto that you won’t start succeeding until you start doing. She hopes to continue giving back to her community through engineering after finishing her studies at WPI.

“With a career in engineering, my goal would not only be to support myself, but to improve as many people’s lives as possible along the way. I hope to use creative problem solving to meet the needs of my community and approach projects with compassion so that the solutions they create serve those who need them most,” Faith said. “My dream job is to design inventions which will improve the lives of others.”

All four students will be participating in MWCC’s Commencement Wednesday where 751 degrees and certificates will be awarded to 717 students. In addition to their degrees, these students will receive words of wisdom and encouragement from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey who will be the college’s Commencement Speaker this year.

Students from the Dental Hygiene and Dental Assisting at Mount Wachusett Community College celebrate after their pinning ceremonies.

Twenty students graduating on May 17 with their Dental Assisting or Dental Hygiene degrees were honored Friday night during a special pinning ceremony.

The ceremony is a time to recognize the hard work of the students and welcome them into the dental professions, according to Cindy Cadoret, the director of the dental education programs at Mount Wachusett Community College.

That commitment to their studies and the work they will be doing in the community were recognized during the ceremony by State Senator Harriette Chandler.

“Your jobs are so important. You are going to make a difference,” said Senator Chandler. “These jobs are life changing jobs.”

Special awards were presented to students who showed exemplary skill within their discipline. April Quirk was presented The Hu-Friedy Award for excellent clinical skills and competence and the willingness to always go above and beyond in the clinical setting. The Dental Hygiene Department Award was presented to Christina Knox for her overall strong academic achievement, clinic excellence, leadership, and making the dental setting team-oriented. The Dental Assisting Department Award was presented to Victoria Cummings for her overall excellence in academic achievement and clinical skill. In a new award, Brittany Hutchinson was recognized for her work promoting oral health with the Oral Health Promotion Award.

State Senator Harriet Chandler addresses the Dental Assisting and Dental Hygiene students Friday night.

The students honored from the dental programs were:

Dental Assisting
Ashby: Victoria E. Cummings
Fitchburg: Meghgan A. Beauvais
Leominster: Felicia G. Freel
Shirley: Julie Henderson
Worcester: Faviola Flores
Greenville, NH: Brianna M. McDougal

Dental Hygiene

Ashby: Kimberly M. Grieg
Ashburnham: April Quirk
Athol: Cassondra Lavigne, Hannah Pachalis
Clinton: Brittany A. Hutchinson
Fitchburg: Eunices Gonzalez
Leominster: Ellen Smith
Lunenburg: Christina Bernatchez
Marlborough: Christina Knox
Ware: Leah Trudeau
Winchendon: Stephanie J. Goodwin
Worcester: Mailoan Nguyen, Nga Pham
Fitzwilliam, NH: Casey R. Bedingfield

President James Vander Hooven presents Jana Murphy with her 2017 Newman Civic Fellow Award at the Mount Wachusett Community College Evening of Excellence.

Mount Wachusett Community College celebrated the academic achievements of extraordinary students during its annual Evening of Excellence awards dinner May 12 at the DoubleTree by Hilton, Leominster. Students were recognized not only for their performance inside the classroom, but for their contributions in the community as well.

In addition to college curriculum and outstanding achievement awards, the MWCC Foundation also presented a number of memorial awards and scholarships during the ceremony. The foundation has awarded more than $300,000 in scholarships this year.

“You have earned and you deserve the excellence that has brought you to this moment,” said President James Vander Hooven, who took over the office in March. “I haven’t been here very long but I can say from the bottom of my heart that I am proud of each and every one of you for the excellence you have shown. I implore you to use whatever you have gained at The Mount to benefit others and to build and strengthen our communities because we need that now more than ever.”

The following awards were presented:

CURRICULUM AWARDS

Art                                                                    Kevin Lynch of Worcester

 

Communications Track                                      Rebekah Chiasson of Jaffrey NH

Early Childhood Education – Career                    Leslie A. Ackers            of Gardner

 

Early Childhood Education – Transfer                 Samantha Gravlin of Gardner

 

Elementary Education Track                               Brianna Marsh of Orange

 

Liberal Arts & Sciences                                      Faith Kurtz of Holden

Eden Shaveet of Hubbardston

 

Interdisciplinary Studies                                     Angela M. Haynes of Richmond, NH

 

Accounting Concentration                                  Cynthia A. Boucher of Ashburnham

 

Business Administration – Transfer                     Iva Quinn of Winchendon

Business Administration – Career                        Linda J. Anderson of Ashburnham

 

Analytical Laboratory and Quality                       Staci Wolski of Fitchburg

Systems Concentration

 

Biotechnology/Biomanufacturing                        Nicolas R. Romero of Fitchburg

 

Biological Science Track                                    Jennifer M. Guerriero of Ashburnham

 

Computer Information Systems                          Marguerite E. Nicholas of Gardner

 

Chemical Science          Track                           Lorna A. Tambi of Hudson

 

Natural Resources                                             Jari Squire of Harvard

 

Paralegal Degree                                               Carrie F. DeCosta of Leominster

 

Physics or Pre-Engineering Track                       Liam J. Scanlon of Barre

 

Fire Science Technology                                    Dylan B. Jones of Townsend

 

Criminal Justice

-Law Enforcement Concentration                        Joshua T. Goliber of Buzzards Bay

-Corrections Concentration                                 Alicia Navarro of Fitchburg

 

Human Services                                                Rachel C. Vargeletis of Ashburnham

 

Dental Hygiene                                                  Mailoan Nguyen of Clinton

 

Complementary Health Care                               Lisa K. Kowalczyk of Gardner

 

Physical Therapist Assistant                              Courtney B. Hurley of Shrewsbury

 

Medical Assisting                                              Nicole B. Joseph of Gardner

 

Medical Laboratory Technology                         Anne M. Allan of Lunenburg

 

Nursing                                                             Elizabeth A. Brown of Leominster

 

Nursing – Evenings                                            Kristina D. Snay of Winchendon

LPN to ADN Bridge                                           Joseph K. Kum of Worcester

 

MEMORIAL AWARDS                                                        

 

Aspasia Anastos Award                                     Sofia G. McDonald Games of Barre

 

Judge Moore Awards                            Katrina K. Ung of Jaffrey, NH (Academic Excellence)

Rebekkah Dietz of Gardner (Excellence in Writing)

 

Peter J. Trainor Leadership Award                      Kimberly A. Cook of Gardner

 

Roberts Scholar                                                            Jessie Mascitti of Rindge, NH

 

  1. Marilyn Kiosses Scholarship             Colleen M. Suarez of Fitchburg

 

Craig Hamel Scholarship                                    Sabrina A. Pettigrew of Rutland

 

Melissa Herr Marsh Scholarship                         Sybil L. Sinclair of Ashburnham

 

Joseph S. Baldyga Veteran’s Fund                    Stanley Choruzek of Lancaster

 

MWCC Veteran’s Memorial Scholarship             Cristen C. Comptois of Hubbardston

 

James D. Murphy Scholarship                           Jasson Alvarado Gomez of Worcester

 

 

HONORS SOCIETY RECOGNITION

Honors Program Graduates

 

Lisa K. Kowalczyk of Gardner

Jana Murphy of Hubbardston

Marymar Perez Cruz of Fitchburg

Eden Shaveet of Hubbardston

 

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS        

 

All-USA Community College                                         Michel L. Cocuzza of Winchendon

Academic Team Nominees                                 Eden Shaveet of Hubbardston

 

2017 Newman Civic Fellow Award                       Jana Murphy of Hubbardston

 

Visions Program Award                                     Nicholas Coddington of Winchendon

Sarah L. Mello of Shirley

 

RX Program Award                                            Ann Giaquinto Scott of Barre

 

Best of English 101 Award                                 1st Place: Tara Dugan of Templeton

2nd Place: Amanda Pawlikowski of Gardner

3rd Place: Jessica I. McKay of Gardner

 

Mount Observer Scholarship                              Courtney L. Wentz of East Templeton

 

Best of Mathematics                                         Liam J. Scanlon of Barre

 

Ellen Daly Dental Hygiene Scholarship               Linda N. Mclean of Troy, NH

 

John Burton Award                                            Kayla Arianna Shabo of Paxton

 

Jean Tandy Award                                             Kyle W. Salam, Baldwinville

 

Carrie Progen Memorial Scholarship                   Kayla D. Rameau of Baldwinville

 

Carl Tammi Award                                             Colleen J. Moran of East Templeton

 

Keith Nivala Award                                            Nicholas R. Auffrey of Westminster

 

Sandy Signor Award                                          Jessica L. Decker of Westminster

 

Service Learning Scholarships                           Rachel C. Vargeletis of Ashburnham

Ryan B. Weston of Hubbardston

 

Sharyn Rice Award                                            Tianna M. Caisse of Gardner

Wayne Canty will be the recipient of Mount Wachusett Community College’s 2016 Service Above Self Award at the college’s graduation.

Business leader and community volunteer Wayne Canty will be the recipient of Mount Wachusett Community College’s 2017 Service Above Self Award at the college’s graduation.

Canty, CEO and owner of Heat Trace Products and MWCC Foundation member, will be recognized during the college’s 52nd commencement ceremony on May 17. The award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions within the 29 cities and towns that make up the college’s service area.

“Wayne Canty has made North Central Massachusetts the home of not only his business but many of his volunteer efforts. A multitude of organizations in the region have benefited from his experience, time and energy. I am pleased to recognize him with this year’s Service Above Self Award,” said President James Vander Hooven.

“I was just dumbfounded and humbled when I was informed of this award. I can honestly say that out of any of the recognitions and awards I’ve received up to this point in my career and my life, this one is the most meaningful,” said Canty.

Canty acquired Heat Trace Products in 2004, relocating the company’s factory from Clinton to Leominster. The company manufactures a line of self-regulating heat trace cables and products for freeze protection and process temperature maintenance for a wide range of industrial, commercial and residential applications.

Since establishing his company in North Central Massachusetts, Canty has become an active member of the business and charitable community in the region. He currently serves on the boards of the North Central MA Chamber of Commerce, and is the Vice Chair of the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster.

Canty has been a member of the Mount Wachusett Community College Foundation since 2013, after forming a strong working relationship with previous President Daniel Asquino, and he served as a member of the college’s Presidential Search Committee in 2016.
“It’s important for me to give back to the community and support the community as best I can both with my time and with my money,” said Canty. “I’ve been successful and I feel an obligation to give back to the community, whether it’s my hometown or where my business is established.”

He has also been involved in statewide and national business organizations, including being a board member of the Massachusetts Marketing Partnership, AIM International Business Council and the MA District Export Council (US Department of Commerce). Canty was appointed by Governor Deval Patrick to the Massachusetts Marketing Partnership Board of Directors in 2011 and accompanied him to Brazil on a trade mission that year. He was appointed by Governor Charlie Baker to the Economic Development Council in 2015.

Canty earned an Associate Degree in Business Administration from Quincy College, a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Suffolk University and holds a National Board Certification from the Muscular Therapy Institute in Cambridge.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker stands with Faith Kurtz at the 29 Who Shine event on Friday after she received her award

The MA Department of Higher Education recognized Mount Wachusett Community College’s Faith Kurtz along with 28 other top students from across Massachusetts during the seventh annual 29 Who Shine award ceremony on May 5 at the Massachusetts Statehouse.

The ceremony honored outstanding graduating students from each of the state’s 29 public colleges and universities, as well as each award recipients’ faculty or staff mentor. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker distributed the award to the students at the Statehouse ceremony.

“Congratulations today, but what I’m really excited about is what happens next,” said Baker explaining that all 29 students have already accomplished so much.

Faith Kurtz is a Pathways Early College Innovation student majoring in Liberal Arts and Sciences and currently has a 3.98 GPA. She will be graduating in May with her high school diploma and Associate Degree. She will be attending WPI in the Fall of 2017.

“With a career in engineering, my goal would not only be to support myself, but to improve as many people’s lives as possible along the way. I hope to use creative problem solving to meet the needs of my community and approach projects with compassion so that the solutions they create serve those who need them most,” Faith said. “My dream job is to design inventions which will improve the lives of others.”

Upon coming to MWCC, Faith threw herself into the community and logged over 200 volunteer hours in her first six months; embracing the motto that you won’t start succeeding until you start doing. Faith’s mentor Natalie Mercier, the Director of the Pathways Early College Innovation School and Early College Experience, said she has seen Faith transform during her time at the college and come into her own as a leader.

“Natalie Mercier has helped me through every major step in my college career at MWCC,” said Faith. “She has always made herself available when I have questions or need advice. She has been not only an invaluable resource, but also a kind and supportive friend who helped give me the confidence to believe I could succeed.”

In addition to Faith’s involvement at the college, which includes being the current President of the SGA and of the Music Club, she has taken part in the United Way Day of Caring as well as Awana.

MWCC President James Vander Hooven, Faith Kurtz, Chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education Chairman Chris Gabrieli, Faith’s mother Denise and the Director of the Pathways Early College Innovation School Natalie Mercier pose for a photo following the 29 Who Shine award ceremony on May 5.

Faith has been a strong leader throughout her time at MWCC serving in many capacities as a volunteer and a voice for the student body. At the Fall 2016 Community College Student Leadership Association Student Conference she was awarded the Lisa Milso Emerging Leader Award for her work on campus as an emerging leader. Her willingness to serve wherever needed along with her outgoing and friendly demeanor have made her an asset to the MWCC community.

The honorees, chosen because of their academic achievements and record of student leadership and community service, contribute greatly to the civic life and economic well-being of the state, whether furthering their education or entering careers in Massachusetts in fields as diverse as education, public policy, medicine, creative arts and engineering.

“The outstanding 29 Who Shine students have made good on Massachusetts taxpayers’ investment in their education,” said Carlos E. Santiago, Commissioner of Higher Education. “Every year the 29 Who Shine remind us that our public college and university graduates represent the future of the Commonwealth. They are here to learn, here to stay, and it is incredibly inspiring to see how each honoree is contributing to our common good.”

Eight Mount Wachusett Community College students were elected by their peers to student government leadership positions recently.

The vote that took place in April set the student representation at the college for the next year. Those representatives are:

Sophomore Representatives:
Olivia Rose Howe
Ashley McHugh
Samantha Shippell-Stiles

Freshman Representative:
GiaBao Truong

At Large Representatives:
Taylor Rameau
Gabriel Roberts
Sarah Urbina

Gina Vilayphone will serve as student trustee on Mount Wachusett Community College’s board.

Also elected was Gina Vilayphone who will serve as student trustee on the college’s board. She hopes to foster additional involvement for students at the school and encourage them to network and meet each other.

“I really want the satellite campuses to come together. My wish is for other campuses to get more involved,” said Vilayphone. “I want people to get involved in their community more than anything else.”

A non-traditional student, Vilayphone is currently completing her second semester at Mount Wachusett Community College majoring in Communications. She is a mother who is passionate, continuously works for positive change, and strongly believes that everyone can succeed with the right support and acknowledgment.

Some of the newest members of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society are pictured following their induction on Tuesday. From left to right are (backrow) Evangelia Sunberg, Jerrica Washington, Margot Friis, Ifra Hassan, Nathan Pierce, Gemini Walter, Paula Rosario, (front row) Lisa Ferrara-Caron, Linda Suy, Alison Germagian, Eden Shaveet, Trevor Leger, Sharie Melendez, and Jaimie Wojtkowiak.

MWCC’s Phi Delta Chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa international honor society inducted 56 new members and presented sizeable donations to community service organizations on Tuesday.

During the chapter’s induction ceremony on April 25, Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke dispensed wisdom he had crowd-sourced, including advice to always do the little things a little bit better and that it pays to not always follow the money and instead take into consideration quality of life. However, as he closed the MWCC alumnus imparted his own piece of advice upon the students.

“It’s within you. All you have to do is try your hardest, do your best and be kind to each other,” said Mayor Hawke.

In addition to the ceremony, chapter officers and members presented a $750 check to the Gardner Community Action Council and a $750 check to the student-run Students Serving Our Students program at MWCC. The funds were raised at the recent PTK Character Breakfast.

Founded in 1918, Phi Theta Kappa recognizes and encourages the academic achievement of two-year college students and provides opportunities for personal, academic and professional growth through participation in honors, leadership, service and fellowship programming.

This year’s new inductees include:

Ashburnham

Jessica Decker

Lynne Galvin

Athol

Cameron Raymond

Ayer

Linda Suy

Baldwinville

Laura Lyman

Clinton

Megan Ballenger

Katharine Osborne

Fitchburg

Nicole Forsythe

Trevor Leger

Isabella Lillie

Nathan Pierce

Gardner

Leslie Ackers

Ifra Hassan

Amanda Johnson

Erin Jones

Katie Lockwood

Greenfield

Katherine Newell

Groton

Shannon Belanger

Jeffrey Martin

Hubbardston

Alison Germagian

Eden Shaveet

Brianna Stevens

Hyde Park

Jerica Washington

Jaffrey, NH

Rebekah Chiasson

Katrina Ung

Leominster

Stacy Ciccolini

Bonnie Corbett

Sharie Melendez

Job Ogega

Leatitia Sagwe

Shauna Soroka

Gemini Walter

Lunenburg

Patricia Adams

Christina Bernatchez

Marlborough

Evangelia Sunberg

New Ipswich

Ashley Traffie

Orange

Benjamin Gilmore

Ellie Harris

Matthew Waite

Nicole Wetherby

Peterborough, NH

Adam Fortier

Ashley Silverman

Princeton

Ella Walsh

Royalston

Heidi Warren

Rutland

Margot Friis

Springfield

James Mugwanja

Templeton

Paula Rosario

Townsend

Kathryn Schatia

West Townsend

Jaimie Wojtkowiak

Westford

Cari Arnott

Westminster

Lisa Ferrara-Caron

Ellen Howard

Winchendon

Michel Cocuzza

Worcester

Terrance Ford

Opeyemi Odewale

Cassandra Tousek

 

 

Kevin Berg, second from left, was honored as one of the 2017 Alumni of the Year by the American Association of Community Colleges. The event was also attended by his wife Donna, MWCC Dean Academic and Institutional Technology Vincent Ialenti and MWCC President James Vander Hooven.

Mount Wachusett Community College Alumnus Kevin Berg was honored as one of the 2017 Alumni of the Year by the American Association of Community Colleges at an awards ceremony highlighting the ability of community colleges to transform lives.

Berg was one of five community college alumni recognized for their outstanding achievements at the AACC’s 97th Annual Convention on Tuesday, April 25.

Berg is executive vice president of production at CBS Network Entertainment Group. He’s been responsible for the launch and success of the CSI and NCIS franchises, Blue Bloods, Elementary, and more. But as a young man growing up in Central Massachusetts, Berg was aimless. He took a year off after high school to work at one of the region’s many chair factories. He didn’t want to do it forever, so he enrolled at Mount Wachusett Community College and studied communications. After college, he did a brief stint at a Boston radio station and then headed to Los Angeles. After knocking on doors, he ended up with a job with an award-winning director.

At the ceremony, Berg reflected on his time at MWCC where he said students are given an opportunity to grow as well as learn.

“It’s always nice to be recognized for your achievements – however I feel that all I really did here was to get lucky and pick an excellent institution that gave me the basis to become who I am professionally,” Berg said. “The Mount was, and is, the place that takes high school kids and turns them into working world adults.”

Now a success in his field, Berg also has become a philanthropist. He served five years as a member of the Board for the Entertainment Industry Foundation, a leading charitable organization. And he’s involved with Save the Children and several community impact projects. He’s also helped countless people start careers in the industry. He’s known for answering cold calls and taking chances on people. Berg embodies MWCC’s mission to prepare individuals for lives of fulfillment, leadership, and service in a diverse and global society.

 

Nikki Valila s the director or training at My Life My Choice and has spent the past 12 years of her professional career working with commercially sexually exploited girls.

The following story was written by Paula Owen for the Telegram & Gazette.

Sex trafficking can happen anywhere to anyone, says Nikki Valila, who has spent the past 12 years working with sexually exploited girls, and people need to watch for red flags that may not be that obvious.

Ms. Valila, director of training at My Life My Choice, a national leader in prevention and intervention around the commercial sexual exploitation of children, delivered the keynote at Mount Wachusett Community College’s Tea Time speaker series Monday afternoon. The South Cafe was packed for her discussion, titled “Sex for Sale: A Look at Human & Sex Trafficking.”

Changing the language used when talking about commercial sexual exploitation of children is key, Ms. Valila said, to getting children help. People look at the issue differently, she explained, when a child is called a “teen prostitute” because the term comes with a stigma and places the responsibility on law enforcement to act rather than the community. When the term “commercial sexual exploitation of children” is used instead, the Gardner native said, it is looked at as a community problem with children as victims in need of help and services.

“I’m from Gardner and people think it doesn’t happen here,” she said. “Everyone says it can’t happen to my kid or neighbor or can’t happen here.”

It is not happening on the streets anymore, she said, with people walking up and down the streets in the middle of the night turning tricks. With social media and classified advertising websites like Backpage, it is done on laptops and cellphones, she said. Children who have no idea what is happening are recruited online by agreeing to meet the wrong person or accepting the wrong friend request. Pimps now look like their boyfriends, she said, and most are much older, but look younger.

The media also sends mixed messages of what commercial sexual exploitation of children is, she said.

“If there was a kid from Gardner thrown into a black van, kidnapped at gunpoint and brought out of state, it would be on the news for days,” she said. “That’s not what human trafficking looks like. The reality is the chains our kids have are invisible. That’s why they keep running back. Their pimp brainwashed, coerced and manipulated, like a cult.”

Commercial sexual exploitation of children is a form of child sexual abuse that mandated reporters have to file, she said. The problem is, signs to identify it are not as visible as seeing a “belt mark” on a child’s arm, she said.

The average age of a victim is 14, she said, and 59 percent were under 14 when they were first exploited. Of those, 77 percent were involved with the welfare system and 24 percent had gang ties, she said.

Pimps figure out children’s vulnerabilities and prey on them, she said, and provide some form of remuneration that the child values, including money, goods and services.

Risk factors include domestic violence, addiction, loss of a parent, mental health concerns, learning disabilities, racism, sexism and classism.

Commercial sexual exploitation of children is not delinquency, she said, or promiscuity that suggests children are enjoying having sex with multiple partners in one night – on average 10 to 20 different people a night.

Children she works with often brag that they are making money doing what other people do for free and about how they go to amazing parties, make money and use drugs.

“They brag when they come back … but they don’t talk about the trauma they went through,” Ms. Valila said.

With 100 pimps in Boston known by law enforcement and another possible 75 more “we don’t know about (who are) pimping your kids,” she said, there are signs parents can look for: kids wearing more makeup, having unexplained cash, a change in attire, new friends and truancy. When looked at in their totality, the signs can be an indicator of commercial sexual exploitation of children.

But parents can’t just tell kids to watch out for the “creepy guy,” she said, because pimps and johns can be anyone.

Ms. Valila said that 15 percent of American men, or 15 million men over 18, have purchased sex, and 1 percent, or 1 million, did it in the last year. Between 60 and 80 percent of illegal commercial sex transactions are brokered online, she said. The average age for first-time buyers is 21, she said, and 43 percent of johns were with their friends.

Pimps bring children to where the money is, she said, such as large cities, sporting events and tourist areas, and also to international airports, where people may be looking for illegal sex during layovers.

Parents and caregivers need to watch for signs and ask tough questions to prevent loved ones from becoming victims, she said.

“Ask them, ‘When you were gone for two weeks, how the hell did you make it out there?’ Part of being on the run is couch surfing. Oftentimes, sex comes with that. Our kids would do anything for weed. It’s ridiculous. Ask the question no one else is asking. Be humiliated and ask (children) the questions because I would rather know than not know,” she said.

Ms. Valila worked for the Suffolk County district attorney’s office in the child abuse unit as the lead victim witness advocate on teen exploitation cases and was program director of an eight-bed group home for sexually exploited adolescent females outside of Boston. She also served as a consultant on teen exploitation cases at a youth residential program and has trained hundreds of child workers and law enforcement officials on strategies in working with sexually exploited girls.