MCCC celebrates the achievements of the Class of 2024

By Diane VanDyke
Montgomery County Community College celebrated the accomplishments of the 1,533 graduates during three Commencement ceremonies on May 16. The Class of 2024 ranges in age from 17 to 68 years. Photo by Linda Johnson

Montgomery County Community College celebrated the accomplishments of the 1,533 graduates during three Commencement ceremonies on May 16. The Class of 2024 ranges in age from 17 to 68 years. Photo by Linda Johnson

Among the cheers and applause, graduates of Montgomery County Community College’s Class of 2024 celebrated their Commencement during three ceremonies held on May 16 in the College’s Health Sciences Center gym in Blue Bell.

Jessica Tremblay national anthem singerAs 1,533 graduates collectively received 1,613 degrees and certificates*, they proudly added their names to the lengthy roster of more than 90,000 Mustang alumni spanning the College’s six decades. Jessica Tremblay, a Health Care Administration major, started the ceremony singing the National Anthem.

Elena Gehret - Commencement songTo commemorate MCCC’s 60th anniversary, Dr. Victoria Bastecki-Perez, MCCC President, shared wisdom from the College’s first five presidents’ Commencement speeches. Their collective messages encouraged graduates to focus on gratitude and hope, foster continuous learning, uphold their social responsibilities, leverage their educational gifts and strive to make a positive difference in the world. To this advice, Dr. Bastecki-Perez offered her own heartfelt message.

Class of 2024 “As you forge beyond Montco’s campuses, embrace and cherish your distinctive ‘How Do You Montco’ story. In whatever you do, always be your authentic self,” said Dr. Bastecki-Perez. “Work to transform the world into a more equitable, empathetic and caring place for all. Your journey, Mustangs, is not just about reaching destinations but about lifelong learning and leaving lasting footprints of purpose and impact with integrity. Congratulations, graduates! May your future be filled with endless possibilities and memorable adventures!”

Following the President’s remarks, MCCC Board of Trustees Chair Varsovia Fernandez congratulated the graduates and emphasized the importance of valuing diversity and promoting inclusivity.

“Each of you bring a unique story, a distinct lens through which to view the world. It’s through the celebration of these differences that we find our true strength and potential,” said Fernandez. “As you step into new endeavors, let the torch of social responsibility guide your path. With integrity and compassion, may you strive to create a world where every voice is heard, and every individual is valued. Congratulations, graduates, on reaching this significant milestone. May the sturdy foundation you've built at Montco propel you toward a brighter, successful future for all.”

Gov Josh ShapiroThis year, Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro joined the 2 p.m. ceremony to offer his commencement remarks and receive an honorary Associate in Letters degree. During his speech, he encouraged the graduates to think of their diploma as a shield and a tool.

honorary letters“Let your diploma be a shield against the naysayers: the thing that blocks out the noise, silences the doubters and offers a stiff arm to the status quo. Let your diploma be that shield,” said Gov. Shapiro. “And, let it also be a tool that you use to forge a brighter future for yourself and the rest of us. A tool you use in future studies, in the hospital, in the lab, at the drafting table, on the showroom floor, in the halls of power or wherever you choose to take your talents to fashion the job, the community, the country, the world you want to see.”

“Wherever your path takes you, you’re now in possession of a tool that increases your power to solve the challenges we face and build the future you want to see. With your diploma comes both the capability and the responsibility to create those solutions. We need your voices, your intelligence, your ingenuity – and most importantly, we need your optimism,” he said. “So please, put your diploma to work: to prove the critics wrong, to invent, to heal, to right wrongs, to find your courage, to dream big dreams, and accomplish big things.”

In addition to Governor Shapiro, Dr. Bastecki-Perez and Fernandez, several others shared congratulatory messages through live and recorded video messages, including Jamila Winder, Chair, Montgomery County Board of Commissioners; Thomas DiBello, Montgomery County Board of Commissioners; Joseph Gallagher, Chair of MCCC’s Foundation Board and 2022 alumnus; and Matthew Riddick, Vice Chair of MCCC’s Alumni Board.

During her remarks, Chair Jamila Winder praised the quality of MCCC’s education and its students and emphasized its value for Montgomery County residents.

“Montco Community College is a testament to my values and those of my family. I was so impressed to learn that over 90 percent of Montco nursing students pass their licensing exams on the first try! That is a tribute to the quality of education this school provides – and the quality of students in our County,” said Winder. “And in an era of soaring college tuition rates, and adults burdened with student debt, what an asset we have here – a place where you can get a great education at a cost most residents of our County can afford.”

Zachary DenmarkThis year’s student speaker, Zachary Denmark of Lafayette Hill, spoke about his journey with cationic trypsinogen deficiency, or chronic pancreatitis, starting with his diagnosis as age 7. He credits MCCC for providing him with the “tools to succeed.”

“Even during COVID, when other colleges were on hold, the administration, faculty and staff at Montco held fast to the mission of providing us with the best education possible to keep us moving forward,” Denmark said. “Coincidentally, it was during COVID that I decided to get an insulin pump, and my life changed forever. I realized that biotechnology was my passion and finding non-narcotic technologies to treat chronic pain would be my life’s work. Montco was able to be that starting place for me to feel that passion.”

Following graduation, Denmark will be joining The Wistar Institute to participate in a pre-apprenticeship program involving biomedical technician training. After that, he plans to continue his biotechnology education at Thomas Jefferson University to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Doug VardakasEach academic year, MCCC recognizes teaching excellence and honors full and part-time faculty whose teaching demonstrates a commitment to the well-being of students both inside and outside the classroom with special awards presented during Commencement.

This year The 2024 Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award went to Douglas Vardakas, Physics Instructor. He earned a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from New York University while working full time at IBM for 38 years. One of the things he enjoys most about teaching at MCCC is sharing his experiences with students and nurturing their educational and professional growth.

In their nominations, students noted that Vardakas is “one of the most interactive, enthralling, kind and respectable teachers they ever had.” They also described him as “very knowledgeable  in his area of teaching and watching him teach is truly poetry.”

Dyana KimbellIn addition to the Lindback Award, MCCC presented the Part-Time Faculty Teaching Excellence Awards sponsored by eCampus Bookstore to Dyana Kimball, Theatre Arts Regular Lecturer, and Dr. Maryellen “Missy” Miller, Exercise Science and Wellness Senior Lecturer.  

Dr. MillerSince 2018, Sound Recording & Music Technology students from each class have written and performed original class songs. This year, Elena Gehret, a Music major, wrote “Someday,” which she performed with students Alex Horvath, David Joseph, James Joseph and Eric Peterson and faculty members Howard Gordon, Sound Recording & Music Technology Assistant Professor, and Michael Kelly, Assistant Professor of Music.

MCCC’s Class of 2024 includes 523 first-generation graduates, 130 nursing graduates, 72 municipal police academy graduates, 30 veterans/active military personnel, five dual enrollment students and three All-PA Academic scholars. The oldest graduate is 68 years and the youngest is 17. The programs with the largest number of graduates are Liberal Studies, Business Administration and Nursing.

All three ceremonies were livestreamed and are available on MCCC’s website.

*As reported on April 23, 2024.