For the Spirit/Guide

A rousing standing ovation welcomed Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden as she embarked on the delivery of her keynote address for the 44th commencement ceremony of Montgomery County Community College May 19.

Close to 1,500 students — the most in the college’s history — received their degrees at the Valley Forge Conference Center in Upper Merion.

Biden, a graduate of Upper Moreland High School and wife of Vice President Joe Biden, is a wearer of many hats. As an educator for three decades, she thanked the board of trustees for the distinct opportunity to offer the commencement address. She teaches at a community college in Norfolk, Va., not far from the White House.

“You did it,” Biden told a packed auditorium. “I feel right at home at a community college commencement. People often ask me why I continue to teach, and my answer is simple, it’s you. It’s the students. Tales are often told of teachers inspiring students, but more often than I not, I think it’s the other way around.”

With an increase of more than 16 percent during the last year, this was the largest class in Montgomery County Community College history.

Biden singled out several graduates in the audience for their unique stories. She acknowledged Karen Vasco, who, after taking care of her elderly father in a hospice, realized she had a talent for nurturing others and promised her father that after he died, she would follow her dreams of becoming a nurse.

Vasko was among the 1,500 students honored at the commencement. At the age of 57, said Biden, Vasko recently passed her registration exam with a score of 99 percent and will be graduating with her degree.

“Years from now,” she told the audience, “you may not be able to recall a certain scientific formula or recite those verses from Shakespeare. You may not immediately be able to solve the complex calculus problems you’ve conquered here. But I have no doubt in my mind that you will be able to say, ‘No matter what is put in front of me, I can do it.’”

Biden also honored Brian Lukens, a graduate who took a break from college in 2004 to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps. After serving two tours of duty in Iraq, Lukens returned to study at MCCC full-time, while still serving as a reservist and a full-time security employee in order to support his family.

“It’s people like Brian and his family who show us what words like ‘service,’ ‘strength’ and ‘sacrifice’ really mean on a daily basis. I’ve been lucky enough to witness firsthand the power of community colleges to change lives, first, as a community college teacher, but now as part of an administration that also recognizes their value,” Biden went on to say.

“President Obama has set a goal of leading the world in college graduates by 2020, and he knows that community colleges are key to reaching that goal — and you are all living proof,” she said.

According to Dr. Karen A. Stout, president of Montgomery County Community College, 19 graduates completed their degrees solely online and 26 are graduating from an honors program — a record number for the college. In total, the school issued 85 associate degrees and certificate programs in 59 areas of study.

In addition to setting the largest overall record, the Class of 2011 also set a record for the most West Campus students to graduate in a given year, totaling 287.

This year’s class also includes a record number of 46 veterans and nine graduates on active military duty, as well as the first graduates from the college’s nuclear engineering technology and dance degree programs and entrepreneurial studies certificate program.

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