River Valley Community College Graduates 191

  • River Valley Community College graduates process to "Scotland the Brave" during their commencement ceremony on Friday, May 19, 2017, in Claremont, N.H. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Joel Merritz graduates with a degree in human services from River Valley Community College in a commencement ceremony on Friday, May 19, 2017, in Claremont, N.H. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • River Valley Community College radiology graduates photograph their decorated caps before their commencement ceremony on Friday, May 19, 2017, in Claremont, N.H. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • United States Senator Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., addresses River Valley Community College graduates during their commencement ceremony on Friday, May 19, 2017, in Claremont, N.H. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 5/20/2017 12:07:56 AM
Modified: 5/20/2017 12:19:32 AM

Claremont — Community college students are often described as non-traditional because many do not attend college right after high school.

As graduate Morgan Tracy noted at Friday’s commencement exercises, among the River Valley Community College Class of 2017 were moms, dads, daughters and sons, grandparents and even great-grandparents, all with jobs, families and careers.

Fellow graduate Joel Merritz is as non-traditional as they come.

Merritz, 52, took a brief but unsuccessful shot at college out of high school and then held a series of jobs including farming, carpentry and printing.

“So I ended up bouncing around trying to find myself at a later age,” Merritz said.

With his interest in helping others — Merritz had worked with the Salvation Army helping the homeless in Concord and Laconia — his wife suggested he consider college.

That was four years ago and Merritz, who began working as the director of the homeless shelter in Claremont in early April, said it was a tough challenge but one from which he never considered walking away.

On Friday, Merritz was awarded a human services degree at the RVCC graduation.

“My wife is disabled and she became ill three times and I had to withdraw, either completely or 98 percent for that semester,” Merritz said, sitting in his office at the shelter. “I always went back because I was going to get my degree. I didn’t care. I was going to get the degree. Some courses I had to retake, but I just stuck with it. I worked really hard to get the grades I got.”

Merritz has done a little more than simply manage the shelter. Using what he learned in an early childhood education course, he has brought some children’s books — one of which he had to review for a class — down to the shelter for families and has encouraged them to read.

“We were (in class) talking about digital media and how to get kids away from digital media and around the shelter, families don’t have much,” he said. “So I got some books together to take over to people trying to get them to read, and one kid read to me and we read together.”

Merritz has also started a statewide “bed-log” that allows people in his field to search by computer for available beds at shelters around the state rather than spend hours making calls.

For anyone thinking they couldn’t juggle college late in life, Merritz’s experience at RVCC has made him believe a degree is within reach for whoever wants it and the education has made him better suited for his work.

“Absolutely, they can do it. I think anybody who wants to succeed, can succeed there,” he said. “They have outstanding support services. They work with non-traditional students, they work with veterans, single moms. I found them to be very supportive. I think part of the reason I did as well as I did was because I knew if I needed the assistance, it was there.”

It is likely many of the school’s 191 graduates, including the Keene and Lebanon campuses, in this year’s class would agree.

Under cloudy skies and a cool breeze on Friday, speakers congratulated the students for their perseverance and the dedication to reach their goals, beginning with Ali Rafieymehr, the college’s interim president, who called the graduates “talented and accomplished” students who worked hard and sacrificed a lot to achieve their goals.

John Calhoun, a member of the community college system board of trustees praised the graduates for the way they inspired him with “your hard work, your ambition and your achievement.

“You leave here poised to make a difference, not just for yourself but also for your family,” Calhoun said, encouraging graduates to embrace the opportunity to make a difference for their community and state.

Calhoun and others recognized the supportive families and friends as well as the school’s staff and faculty.

Tracy, who received her degree as a physical therapist assistant, gave the evening’s class greeting and spoke about her academic journey that brought her to River Valley after earning a bachelor’s degree at another school and joining the work force.

“I wanted more. I wanted to provide skilled and compassionate patient care,” Tracy said. “I am so thankful to have found a program that accepted me as an adult learner and ultimately helped me achieve this goal. Being an adult learner is hard work. We all have other responsibilities: Families, children and more. Choosing to go back to school for two, three even four years is a difficult decision to make trying to balance it all. I want my fellow graduates to know how proud you should be of where you are today.”

U.S. Sen Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., delivered the commencement address, congratulating the graduates and encouraging them to take the skills they learned and engage in the democratic process in their communities and beyond to further the Founding Fathers’ compact to create “a more perfect union.”

She issued a succinct challenge, one that she heard at the breakfast table growing up from her father, a World War II veteran.

“He would turn to me and my siblings and ask us our plans for the day,” she said. “From time to time, the question my dad would ask was, ‘What are you doing for freedom today?’ ”

It had a lasting impact then, Hassan said, and still does today and made her think about the world beyond themselves.

“Today you are thinking about your future and what your future careers may be,” Hassan said. “As you do that, I also urge you to consider my dad’s question. And the critical job we all share: that of a citizen in a democracy.”

Hassan said the world is an uncertain and rapidly changing place, but with the skills they developed at RVCC, graduates are well-equipped to tackle those challenges in the years ahead.

“And as a citizen in our democracy, you will also have a role to play in making sure our state and nation are prepared to take on those challenges,” Hassan said.

“The nation will emerge stronger from this period of rapid change — even stronger than before — and can do it because of the power of each of us and all of us to make a difference,” Hassan said. “We can do it because of citizens who wake up and answer the question, what am I doing for freedom today?”

Upper Valley Graduates

River Valley Community College graduates from the Upper Valley: Anthony Acevedo, Sunapee; Deborah Adams, Newport; Amanda Alley, Lebanon; Daniel Banker, Lebanon; Danielle Beneat, Charlestown; Amanda Benoit, Claremont; Aaron Benware, Claremont; Jeffrey Blomquist, Newport; Cassidy Bolles, Bradford, Vt.; Elena Borriello, Fairlee; Natasha Brouillard, Claremont; Stephanie Brown, Charlestown; Danielle Burroughs, Bradford, Vt.; Casandra Carroll, Claremont; Nikayla Cartier, Grantham; Heather Cash, White River Junction; Carrie Clabaugh, Bethel, Vt.; Gabrielle Cummings, Charlestown; Kelsey Curtis, Sunapee; Kristian Daniels, Cornish Flat; Bambi DeFilippis, Newport; Vincent Dibernardo, Lebanon; Maggie Dio, Claremont; Ross Doody, Claremont; Brenda Dorr, Claremont; Alison Fielder, Lebanon; Jaclynn Fowler, Claremont; Jessica Gould, Orford; Michelle Grant, Lebanon; Jeffrey Hanrahan, Charlestown; Matthew Harrington, Cornish; Emily Herschel, Springfield, Vt.; Adam Hlobik, Claremont; Meghan Howard, Lebanon; Amanda Howe, Lebanon; Jada Johnson, Claremont; Donna Kendall, Windsor; Nikki Kibling, Windsor; Heathyr Labonte, Claremont; Norma LaFountain, Newport; Stuart Lander, Lebanon; Laura Laskevich, Springfield, Vt.; Steven Lasko, Claremont; Allison Lessard, Claremont; Anne Louzier, Lebanon; Michael Martin, West Lebanon; Rebecca Matson, Claremont; Stephanie McConnell, Claremont; Alexis Melcher, Claremont; Joel Merritz, Claremont; Brendan O’Donnell, Meriden; Ronan O’Donnell, Meriden; Heather O’Hara, Claremont; Joseph O’Keefe, White River Junction; Alaina Orth, Springfield, Vt.; Vanessa Parkinson, Claremont; Robert Patterson, Claremont; Kaija Percy, Brownsville; Matthew Perron, Lebanon; Joshua Pignatiello, Claremont; Kerri Quick, Claremont; Madeline Reno, Newport; Sunshyne Rice, Plainfield; Chandler Richardson, Springfield, Vt.; Amy Rogers, Lebanon; Brittany Root, Claremont; Heather Sanborn, Claremont; Emily Saypack, Springfield, Vt., Lindsey Schwarz, Orford; Bonnie Shinn, Claremont; Alissa Simino, Lebanon; Benjamin Slaughter, Newport; Connor Spaulding, Charlestown; Frank Sprague, Claremont; Kellie St Jacques, Charlestown; Taylor St. Aubin, Charlestown; Betty Steiner, Hartland; Nicole Tarner, Enfield; Pamela Shackett, Newport; Easton Thorpe, Springfield, Vt.; Morgan Tracy, Sharon, Vt.; Stephanie Truman, Lebanon; Wallace Wall, Springfield, Vt.; Joanna Wallace, West Hartford; Megan Wallace, Hanover; Morgan Ward, Claremont; Melissa Warner, Canaan; Page Warner, Claremont; Crystal Waterman, Newport; Sheri Williams, Claremont; Josiah Winter, Perkinsville; Casey York, Lebanon; Steven Zackowski, Newport.

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