Friends and family members honked their horns and cheered as the 23 graduates of Montgomery County Community College’s Gateway to College Program received their high school diplomas on Oct. 2 in the Morris Road parking lot at MCCC’s Blue Bell Campus.
Usually held at the end of the spring semester, the Gateway ceremony was postponed and then transformed into a drive-in event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the changes, the graduates had smiles on their faces and felt a sense of achievement as they each walked onto the stage.
The graduates are Donovan Avery, Perkiomen Valley High School; McKenna Benner, Cheltenham High School; Eve Bertram, Wissahickon High School; Jayden Del’marmol, Souderton High School; Ali Eskandary, Colonial Penn High School; Aidan Gilly, Wissahickon; Tatiana Golovca, Upper Moreland; Dezjah Harriott, Wissahickon; Jasmine Irizarry, Pottsgrove; Nadia Jones, Wissahickon; Robert McKnight, Wissahickon; William Moser, Perkiomen Valleyl; Maximo Palestino, Hatboro-Horsham; Desirae Pettigrew, Phoenixville; Desiree Purdie, Wissahickon; Jessica Roberson, Wissahickon; Ryan Romig, Pottsgrove; Savannah Salguero, Upper Merion High School; Lauren Sickel, North Penn; Anthony Venuto, Jenkintonw; Cecret Waters, Pottsgrove; Alexander Welliver, Daniel Boone; and Devon Yost, Pottsgrove.
Eskandary was named the class Valedictorian. He currently is enrolled at Temple University where he is studying Computer Science.
As part of the Achieving the Dream national network that promotes community college reform and student success, Gateway to College and its dedicated faculty and staff help students stay on track to complete the requirements they need for their high school graduation and earn college credits. Since MCCC launched the program in 2013 at its Blue Bell and Pottstown campuses, more than 200 students have earned their high school diplomas. Many students continue taking classes at MCCC.
MCCC’s Gateway Program is one of only two programs in Pennsylvania and is among 31 national programs in 19 states across the country.
During the ceremony, Dr. Keima Sheriff, Assistant Dean of Student Programs, described how the program, school district and community partners, faculty and staff and family members were all part of a “conspiracy of completion” to hold the students accountable to their goals and not let them give up on themselves.
“You have the power to decide what you want to do and to create the life you want to live,” Sheriff told the graduates. “Barriers may slow you down a bit, but they will not stop you from your goal attainment.”
Nineteen school districts – Boyertown, Cheltenham, Colonial, Daniel Boone, Exeter, Hatboro-Horsham, Jenkintown, Norristown, North Penn, Owen J. Roberts, Perkiomen Valley, Phoenixville, Pottsgrove, Souderton, Upper Dublin, Upper Merion, Upper Moreland, Upper Perkiomen and Wissahickon – and Montco WorksNow, the County’s workforce investment board, collaborate with MCCC, referring students to the program.
Additionally, partners Waste Management, PECO, Univest, TD Bank, the Kahn family, the Maguire Foundation, the Malik family, Ambler Savings, Thompkins VIST Bank, First Priority Bank and the Gateway to College National Network have provided financial support for the program and student scholarships.
PECO, who has been a longstanding partner since 2013, provided laptops to Gateway students who needed them during the pandemic to continue taking their classes online, Sheriff said.
MCCC’s Gateway team includes Dr. Sheriff; Resource Specialists Jezerey Weiderman and Esau Collins; faculty Diane McDonald, Karen Harding-Tasca, Stephanie Wuertz, Jessica Dalcanton, Tracey Fida, Geraldine Plaisir, Timothy Gallagher and Durrell Jones; and Administrative Support Secretary Constance Stebbins.
In 2018, MCCC’s Gateway program was one of 10 community college programs nationwide to be named a finalist for the prestigious 2018 Bellwether Award in the Instructional Programs & Services Category. In 2019, the program received the Achieving the Dream’s Program Excellence Award – a national award that recognizes MCCC’s success in the areas of first-term success, fall-to-fall persistence, two-year persistence and three-year graduation rate.