M/cloudy
21°
M/cloudy
Hi 29° | Lo 4°

CCV’s Largest Class Ever

Alma Twombly, of Bethel, and Community College of Vermont President Joyce Judy shake hands on stage during the college’s 46th commencement ceremony yesterday in Northfield, Vt.  (Josh Larkin photograph)

Alma Twombly, of Bethel, and Community College of Vermont President Joyce Judy shake hands on stage during the college’s 46th commencement ceremony yesterday in Northfield, Vt. (Josh Larkin photograph)

Northfield, Vt. — Within the sea of soon-to-be Community College of Vermont graduates stood 67-year-old Alma Twombly in a black cap and gown.

Gathering with her Upper Valley classmates yesterday for the commencement processional, Twombly, of Bethel, selected a pair of brightly colored stickers to decorate her mortarboard. They shouted “Awesome me!” and “Hooray!” Twombly stuck hers on, eager to retrieve the diploma she’d been chasing for 40 years.

The humidity in Shapiro Fieldhouse at Norwich University, CCV’s commencement venue, wilted the stickers off her cap before she reached her seat, but Twombly’s pride didn’t wither with the adhesive.

Twombly was the Class of 2013’s oldest graduate and a member of the largest Upper Valley student group in CCV history. For the mother of four, grandmother and great-grandmother, graduation day wasn’t about those distinctions. Yesterday was about keeping a promise she made to herself decades ago.

“At one point I promised myself a degree before I died,” Twombly said yesterday. After dropping out of high school at 15, getting married and starting a family, Twombly decided she wanted an education. In 1970, at age 25, she earned her GED. In 1971, before CCV was an accredited institution, Twombly took her first class in accounting. She dabbled in sociology, English, writing, psychology, ethnic studies and math. A degree was always the end goal, but raising four children and working didn’t allow much time to study. After some time off, Twombly decided to get serious about her pursuit.

“My daughter started back and I said, ‘I’m going, too,’ ” Twombly said.

Otherwise debt free, she relied on financial aid only to pay for her final two CCV classes. Twombly skipped the spring semesters to make money doing taxes for others and slowly chipped away at her requirements. She finished her associate degree in liberal studies last December, just before her 67th birthday.

“I could have had my diploma mailed down to me, but then I said, ‘I’ve earned this. I’m going to do it,’ ” she said.

Twombly represented just a sliver of her class’s diversity. With 614 students, it was the largest in CCV history, representing all 14 Vermont counties, nine U.S. states and 10 countries. They ranged in age from 17 to 67 and two-thirds were first-generation college graduates. Forty-one students had military connections, and 35 are veterans.

CCV President Joyce Judy emphasized this diversity as she welcomed friends and family in the packed fieldhouse. She mentioned several students by name, including Twombly, and used their stories as anecdotes to explain the class’s memorable qualities: insightfulness, leadership, dedication, wisdom and courage.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin livened the overheated crowd with a joke at the expense of commencement speaker Tom Bodett.

“Instead of leaving the lights on for us, I wish he’d left the ice on for us,” Shumlin said, referencing Bodett’s line in Motel 6 commercials that has been running for 27 years.

The governor then shared his story of challenge and triumph, struggling in school as a child because of his severe dyslexia. One principal told his parents he would never be successful, but that they would “do the best” they could.

“That’s how they did it in the ’60s in Vermont,” Shumlin said.

But because of one teacher who worked with him for a year outside of school, Shumlin learned to read.

“All I can tell you is that I know where you’ve been and the journey you’re on,” he said. “I beg you to stay in the great state of Vermont, to live and to work and to raise your families, because we need you.”

A handful of students, faculty and community members were presented with awards and scholarships before the class-nominated student commencement speaker, Karri Benoir, of Barre, Vt., took to the lectern.

Benoir spoke of her own challenges while pursuing a CCV degree in liberal studies. The 21-year-old grew up in foster care, spent time in juvenile detention and even found herself homeless before making her way to CCV. “My path to graduation has been filled with struggles and triumphs,” Benoir said. “Before my time at CCV, my life was, at best, a train wreck.”

Working nearly full-time for the college, Benoir maintained high grades and established a stable housing environment. “CCV is more than just a college,” she said. “It’s where I found my self-worth.”

The arena offered her a standing ovation as she took her seat, and National Public Radio personality Bodett stepped to the lectern.

“This is a day like no other, where you dress up like Judge Judy and listen to guys in suits trying to say inspirational things to you like, ‘Today is a day like no other,’ ” Bodett said. “And it is, but I wouldn’t know.”

After studying English in Michigan, Bodett dropped out and headed west. He settled in Alaska, and life fell into place, he said, but years of self-doubt plagued him. Although he found success as a commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered and now as a cast member for the network’s program Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me, he said not obtaining a college degree is his greatest regret.

“Leaving college is not the same as graduating from one, but it’s similar,” he said, explaining that it represents a decision to leave one commitment behind and begin another.

Academic Dean Linda Gabrielson presented the Class of 2013, and each name was read as the students crossed the stage to claim their diplomas. As Twombly strutted to retrieve hers, a burst of cheers rippled through the crowd.

Along with her classmates, Twombly turned her tassel from right to left with Tuesday on her mind. This week, Twombly will meet with an adviser to discuss what comes next.

“I figure I’ll have my bachelor’s by the time I’m 75, with a little help from upstairs,” she said. “I’ve always said I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, so I’ll try a little bit of everything. Growing old is mandatory, but growing up is optional.”

The following students, faculty and community members received special recognitions during commencement: Patricia Moulton Powden, Community Service award; Justin Corcoran and Bethany Towne, Student Community Service Award; Kate Bradley, Faculty Community Service Award; Jackie Boucher and Aaron Connor, Alumni Scholarship Awards.

Katie Mettler can be reached at 603-727-3234 or kmettler@vnews.com.

Class of 2013

Here is the list of CCV graduates from the Upper Valley, as provided by the college:

Bethel: Wesley Bailey, Alycia Holman, Alma Twombly. Bradford, Vt.: Nicole Cremo, Tabitha Lury, Zachary Plante. Bridgewater Corners: Andrew Bontrager, Savannah Cole. Chelsea: Joseph Ducharme, Heather Lavallee. Corinth: Kayla Ricker. East Thetford: Mary Arnold, Christine Clark. Hartland: Lori Beland. Randolph: Stacy Blanchard, Albert Laperle, Tammy Pregent, Kelly Thompson. South Royalton: Melissa Burbine, Amy Lewis, Meredith Underhill, Alesia Williams. Thetford Center: Joshua Clark, Andrew Harhen. Vershire: Melanie French. West Fairlee: Ashley Bean. White River Junction: Miranda Arruda, Hannah Cerasoli, Kirsten Dattilio, Janetta Denk, Jayne Lynds, Alicia Maddox, Jenifer Pratte, Clelia Sweeney, Michelle Stanley, Kathryn Williams. Windsor: Wendy Brammer, Kelly Dane, Amy Hoisington, John Horner, Keighty Larson. Woodstock: Samuel Olds. Claremont: Brandie Armstrong. Lebanon: Aristopeter Koli, Rachel Millay