GARDNER — It’s never too late to fight for the things you want in life.
That was the message from student speaker Cassparina Carlson on Thursday night, as 798 students accepted their diplomas at Mount Wachusett Community College’s 54th annual commencement ceremony.
Carlson, a mother of three and stepmother of two, is a first generation college graduate and said she never thought college would be in the cards.
Carlson said she had her doubts when she first walked onto the Mount Wachusett campus and signed up for classes in 2011.
Her college dreams were initially dashed, however, when she received her final grades after the first semester.
“That semester I failed all of my classes,” said Carlson.
Dejected and disheartened by the failure, she stopped taking courses to focus on a job and her children.
In 2016, tragedy struck when her ex-husband died in a fatal car accident. Again feeling defeated, Carlson said she was ready to give up until her boyfriend urged her to go back to school.
“I just laughed at that thought because it seemed impossible,” she said. “But it sparked a fire in me and I started to consider the idea all over again.”
Though the idea of returning to school frightened her, Carlson was determined to prove herself and to make her children proud.
The Visions Program, which is designed to help first generation students, helped Carlson branch out and succeed as a student, she said.
“It completely sabotaged my anti-social plan,” she joked.
Carlson, a former Marine, said she also found a support system from her fellow veterans and Veteran Services.
“The friendships I have made with fellow veterans have truly been invaluable and I hold all of you close to my heart,” she said.
Paul Hernandez, vice president of academic and student affairs, said there were 30 service members in the graduating class. Carlson served four years, was a diesel mechanic and earned the rank of E-5 sergeant.
Carlson also said her family has played an important role during her time at the college. While there were challenges over the last few years, Carlson said her family stuck by her and helped her realize a dream.
It may have taken longer than expected, said Carlson, but she was finally able to triumph over her past failure.
“My outlook has completely changed about myself, my community, an education career, and the Mount,” she said.
“Although I am graduating from the Mount, this isn’t the last time you’ll see me on campus because my daughter starts in the fall.”
U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan, who is also a first generation college graduate, gave students advice during her commencement speech.
During the start of the Mount Wachusett Community College graduation on Thursday night, the graduates who are veterans were asked to stand to be honored. One of those veterans was Cassparina Carlson, a U.S. Marine who gave the student address during the ceremony. See a full list of graduates on Page 6. (John Love / SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE)
“Be ready to embrace change,” she began. “The best made plans get disrupted but there’s a silver lining in any setback and you must always be on the lookout for the opportunities that will inevitably call you.”
She encouraged graduates make an impact on the world, to take action, and take control of their fate.
“You’re the force that time and again accelerates our progress,” said Trahan. “You have already proven that you can lead us to the future.”
Hernandez commended students on their ability to adapt to opportunity and challenges. He also recognized the “team” of people that each student has surrounded themselves with.
“It take a lot of work to be successful,” said Hernandez. “If you look at the great sports teams in history, they didn’t just depend on an individual.”
One of the many decorated mortar boards at the Mount Wachusett Community College graduation on Thursday night proudly noted the grad was becoming a nurse to save lives. (John Love / SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE)
Though Tom Brady may be a great quarterback, he continued, there was always a great team around him. Hernandez urged graduates to show their appreciation for their own teams made up close family and friends.
“Without the strong support of your family, your friends, the faculty and the staff here at the college, you might have struggled getting here to this point,” he said.
“But you demonstrated perseverance, you demonstrated teamwork, and you overcame challenges.”
Daniel Monahan: dmonahan@sentinel andenterprise.com