Hudson County Community College Class of 2023 Inspires with Stories of Determination and Stamina

May 22, 2023

May 22, 2023, Jersey City, NJ – The Hudson County Community College (HCCC) Class of 2023 demonstrated commitment, determination, and strength despite setbacks and challenges as they successfully pursued their academic dreams. The career changers, siblings, parents and their children, single parents, immigrants, students with disabilities, incarcerated and previously incarcerated students, early college high school students, and others – all of whom transformed their lives through higher education – received their college degrees as HCCC celebrated its 46th Commencement Ceremony on Wednesday, May 17, 2023 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. More than 1,500 graduates – a record number – were joined at the event by family, friends, elected officials, the College’s Trustees, HCCC administrators, faculty and staff.

“As the Class of 2023 embarks upon the next chapters of their lives, we know they will continue to demonstrate the fortitude, perseverance and leadership that brought them success as HCCC students,” said HCCC President Dr. Christopher Reber. “We celebrate them and their families.”


HCCC 2023 Graduating Students

Students among the 1,505 HCCC graduates whose achievements were celebrated at Red Bull Arena on May 17, 2023.

Here are just a few of the Class of 2023’s inspiring stories:

The daughter of immigrants from Cuba and Spain, Marlenne Andalia was born and raised in Union City. After her mother’s passing, Marlenne, a single mom whose teenage son attended the HCCC Early College Program, opted to pursue her Associate in Science (A.S.) degree in Psychology at HCCC. While struggling with a learning disability, health issue, and financial hardship, her son motivated her to persevere and continue working for her degree. “I worked with special needs children and wanted to better understand their behaviors and to help them academically,” Marlenne said. “In earning this degree, I went through so many obstacles. Learning to write was one of my biggest struggles. I needed a lot of patience. I want to help others with their disabilities and teach them techniques to learn new skills.”

Rejected by his religious, conservative family and a bible college after he came out as gay, Jersey City resident Anthony Alkuino was lost and confused. He dropped out of Hudson County Community College when juggling two jobs and academic rigors proved too difficult. During the pandemic, he became unemployed, survived on canned food, faced eviction, lost his best friend to suicide, and delivered food for a Times Square restaurant. Depression and anxiety weighed on him as he witnessed social unrest and homelessness. Anthony’s reconciliation with his family, plus a network of mental health support services at the College and financial assistance motivated him to complete his HCCC Associate in Science (A.S.) degree in Human Services/Pre-Social Work. “I had hit rock bottom emotionally,” Anthony said. “I know that my journey is not over, and I have a long way to go, but the healing continues to propel me forward. Whenever I think of giving up, I look back to see how far I’ve come.”

Enrolling at HCCC at age 60, Bloomfield resident B. Ann Davis was inspired by a Culinary Arts banner she spotted while walking through Journal Square.  “I walked down the street and the Culinary Arts building was having an open house. That was a sign for me to go to school and take the Culinary Arts classes. I love and enjoy cooking, so I registered and now I am graduating!” she said. She has completed her HCCC Associate in Arts (A.A.) degree in Culinary Arts.

A wife and mom of two daughters, Bronx, New York native Sophia Grant worked as a Patient Care Technician at a New York City hospital until 2020. She completed her HCCC Associate in Science (A.S.) degree in Health Services. Sophia currently works as an Assistant Teacher. “I changed during the pandemic and decided that I wanted to go back to college,” Sophia said. “Hudson County Community College helped me achieve that goal with excellent, caring professors, a feeling of community, a plethora of student services, and accessibility for everyone. The College has reignited my passion for learning and bolstered my confidence.”

Epah Jere suffered a cardiac arrest in December 2021, shortly after giving birth to her son, thus forcing her to halt studying for her HCCC Associate in Science (A.S.) degree in Business Administration. Her recovery was slow but steady. “I was in a coma for five days and hospitalized for two weeks. It was a near death experience. When I regained consciousness, I suffered memory loss. My husband says that my brain was only remembering things that happened in 2010,” Epah said. “There are certain times when being strong is the only choice you have. I want a better future for myself, and I believe that education is the greatest equalizer. I will continue to work hard and defy the odds until I land that Google, JPMorgan or United Nations job.”

First generation college student Sarilis Martinez was a single mom who had been in and out of college since 2010. When she lost her job, Sarilis enrolled at the College to work toward her HCCC Associate in Science (A.S.) degree in Medical Science. “This time, I had three kids and one bonus child (through marriage). My youngest is three, so he literally did every class with me,” Sarilis said. “There were times when I cried because I had no one to help me with him, and assignments were due. But I got through it. My daughter said, ‘Mom, I’m going to be like you. I’m going to college.’ I set a positive example. My children will look back and say I finished college no matter how long it took.”

Veronica Nicholas began her academic journey toward her HCCC Associate in Science (A.S.) degree in Nursing in 2020 – a similar path her mother took before graduating in 2008 and beginning work as a lab instructor at the College. “When I was a child, my mother took me to class with her. I remember watching her walk across the stage at her graduation. Her professors became my professors, and her journey became mine,” Veronica said. “She was here with me every step of the way, the same way I was with her when I was a child and she was a student. It is an honor to have my mother witness me walk in her footsteps.”

Secaucus resident Jennifer Pearce was a 19-year-old Education major when she dropped out of college to work full time and care for a sick parent. Two decades later, she began pursuing her HCCC Associate in Science (A.S.) degree in Business Administration. Immediately after a surgery, she attended her first class. Despite her professor’s suggestion to stay home and rest, she insisted she was there to learn. “All these years, I dreamed about having a college degree,” Jennifer said. “Through blood, sweat and tears, and working long hours, I accomplished what I had set out to do. Just a little later in life. I’ve made myself and my family proud.”

Eunice Rivera and her daughter, Alyssa, emigrated from the Philippines in 2020. They began taking online and remote classes at the College. Alyssa is a Computer Science major. Eunice was accepted into the HCCC Nursing Program and received a $3,000 scholarship. Through the New Jersey “Pay It Forward” loan, she was able to pursue her degree with a 0% interest rate. “It is not just the HCCC Financial Aid Office that helps. Clubs like Phi Theta Kappa help students search for scholarships and opportunities,” Eunice said. “The College has amazing and erudite faculty members. Our professors have a heart for teaching. They set up tutorial sessions and point us to resources to aid in our studies. Hopefully, we will be able to pay back the services that HCCC gave to us by serving the community.”

Siblings Julie and Steven Elias Rosario celebrated each other’s accomplishments together. Julie will receive her HCCC Associate in Science (A.S.) in Business Administration degree and Steven received his HCCC Associate in Arts (A.A.) degree in Liberal Arts. “As a family, we have been through many ups and downs, but through it all, God has shown his faithfulness. Who would have thought we'd be graduating together? It may not have been in our thoughts, but I know that it was in God's perfect plan,” Julie said.

Jersey City resident Diana Toribio emigrated from the Dominican Republic to the United States in 2011. She was 18, did not speak English, and had dropped out of high school. She received her GED and began an English as a Second Language (ESL) course to prepare her for pursuing her HCCC Associate in Science (A.S.) degree in Business Administration. “I was one of those old school students who would never attend an online class, but thanks to HCCC, the studying online process was the best thing that happened to me,” Diana said. “Today I’m a full-time mother, wife, and worker, and I still have time to study online. I’m thankful to Hudson County Community College for its flexible schedules for students like me.”

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