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678 Earn Community College of Vermont Degree

Northfield, Vt. — Diana Huntley is reluctant to tell people that it took her nearly a decade to earn her associate degree in liberal studies. But that hesitation fades when she talks about her renewed confidence and the classes she is taking now for her nursing degree.

Huntley, 45, of Sharon, was one of 678 students who graduated from the Community College of Vermont during Saturday’s ceremony in Shapiro Field House at Norwich University. Two years ago, however, Huntley couldn’t have imagined finishing her degree. She was dreading the required math class so much that she thought, maybe she wouldn’t graduate.

Then, two years ago, she found a job as a nursing assistant at the Mayo Healthcare in Northfield. She fell in love with the profession and decided she wanted to be a nurse. That meant she needed to finish her degree.

So last fall she enrolled in a math class that wasn’t for credit so she could practice her skills. In April she passed the required math class for her degree. Today, she’s already three weeks into her prerequisite classes at CCV for nursing, and she plans to apply to RN programs next year at Norwich University and the Vermont Technical College.

“Honestly, I’m so proud of myself,” Huntley said after Saturday’s ceremony. “I feel like I’ve changed. This accomplishment, I didn’t think it was going to be that big of a deal, but all of a sudden I’m able to dream way bigger than I ever have. It’s pretty huge.”

CCV has 12 academic centers throughout the state, including one in White River Junction, which meant that Saturday was the first time the entire Class of 2014 was in the same room together. This year marks the second year in a row in which CCV graduated a record-high number of students.

Olivia Smith-Hammond, of Burlington, was nominated by her class to give the student address, and she shared many of Huntley’s experiences. It took Smith-Hammond seven years to earn her degree and, like Huntley, she tried to avoid math class.

“Math was my Mount Everest,” said Smith-Hammond, who said she has learning challenges. A math problem that would take her classmates five minutes to solve would take her 25 minutes. And while she tried to convince her professors that the class wasn’t really necessary, she ultimately spent a summer dedicated to it — and passed.

“(A) story of perseverance is pretty typical at graduation speeches, but for all of us who it takes great effort to complete nearly everything, triumph is a great cause for celebration,” Smith-Hammond told her classmates.

Gov. Peter Shumlin lead the processional into Shapiro Field House. His address to the graduates sounded a theme similar to what he shared with last year’s graduates. Shumlin grew up with dyslexia, had a terrible time in school and an equally difficult time learning how to read. The only way he was able to go to college was through a two-year program.

And he told the group before him that he knows they had to work harder than any other graduates in Vermont to earn their degrees.

“I beg you to stay in Vermont,” Shumlin said. “Live, work, raise a family in the best of the 50 states. That is my plea to you. And to remember that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that you cannot do.”

Keynote speaker Stuart Comstock-Gay, president and CEO of the Vermont Community Foundation, also encouraged the graduates to give back to their communities. Comstock-Gay told the class they will be happier and healthier if they become part of organizations and surround themselves with people, instead of being lonely.

He also encouraged the graduates to give to others, to take calculated risks and not to turn down opportunities. The people who never make choices that involve risk will rarely get far, he said.

“When you’re asked to join something, do it,” Comstock-Gay said.

“When you have a chance to be generous, take it. And when you have a new opportunity, don’t let fear paralyze you.”

When it was Huntley’s turn to walk across the stage and receive her diploma, she lifted both her hands above her head and clenched her fists, a big smile sweeping across her face.

She grabbed her green diploma with both hands and held it close as she walked to the edge of the stage, where her father was waiting for her with a hug.

A decade ago, Huntley was doing landscaping and gardening work, but she wanted stability and health insurance and a professional career.

But it was a struggle balancing raising two kids as a single mother, earning a livable wage and taking classes. Her 24-year-old son, Tobin, graduated from college two years ago and her 13-year-old daughter, Eva, is enrolled at Sharon Academy.

“It took me a while to learn how to balance all those, but now that I’ve got it, I’m going to just keep going,” Huntley said.

“I have these fabulous kids, and I’m so excited that now I get to think about my future.”

Upper Valley CCV Graduates

Here are the members of the Community College of Vermont Class of 2014 from the Upper Valley, as provided by the school:

Vermont

Bethel: Lynn Dundas, Cara Richardson. Bradford: Melva Davidson, AnnaAlisia Ledoux, Laura Wheeler. Bridgewater Corners: Katherine Winsor. Canaan: Rebecca, Hailey, Ashley Smith, Sarah Tolley. Chelsea: Tiffany Braman. Fairlee: Erica Badillo, Stacey Dunham, Sarah Rinehimer. Hartford: Kristen Murphy. Hartland: Corinna Brown, Alexa Garcia, Lindsay Pierce. Newbury: Caleb Serra. North Randolph: Nicole Olmstead. Randolph: Tessa Blanchard, Claire Goldsworthy. Randolph Center: Justina Kenyon, Sara St. Peter. Royalton: Jessica Adams. South Royalton: Carmen Gonier. Sharon: Tiffany Irish, Diana Huntley. Springfield: Wesley Black, Thereasa Clark, Stephanie Currie, Hailee Northup, Alanna Parker. South Strafford: Michelle Shane. Thetford Center: Tara Hill, Livia Seace Lacasse. Thetford: Richard Judd. Vershire: Jessica Tarmey. White River Junction: Jodie Lang, Holly Morse, Brooke Nott, Jennie Russell, Wendy Schumacher, Elisa Speckert, Emeline Tilles. Windsor: Robert Dupre, Danielle Farnsworth, Peggy George.

New Hampshire

Charlestown: Kaylee St Pierre. Hanover: Thomas White. Haverhill: Jennifer Locke. West Lebanon: Kris Boynton, Cassandra Levatino, Sunshyne Rice. Lyme: Vanessa Stein.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.