NORWALK, Conn. – Saralynn Kelly's husband told her "You gotta do it," so she did. She donned a cap and gown and marched in the procession Thursday at Norwalk Community College.
Kelly, a 46-year-old Westport resident, is part of the Class of 2012, the largest group of graduates ever at the community college, according to president David Levinson.
More than 800 people were eligible to graduate in the school's 50th annual commencement ceremony. They came from 85 nations. "You're an incredible, beautiful class," Levinson said during the proceedings. "You, the Class of 2012, are a role model for the beauty and enrichment of living in a truly diverse, multicultural world."
Bagpipes marked the start and the end of the ceremony. In between, Laura Dicker, who moved here alone from England three years ago and was graduating from the communications arts program, spoke about how difficult it was to find herself in a new place. Dicker said she fought back tears when she was told she had to be placed in remedial English classes. "And yet, here I am, three years later graduating Phi Beta Kappa and speaking to you."
Rachel Lederman, a graduate of the legal assistant program and president of the student government, said she had learned not to try to be perfect. "Not only have I created me at NCC, I found me at NCC," she said.
Afterward, the graduates passed through the traditional gauntlet of teachers on their way to refreshments. Graduating was "great," said Richard Coore, who was in the business administration program. "It took forever but I'm here," he said.
"Everything was worth it, even the tough times," said Daniela Essa, a liberal arts and sciences graduate. "It's emotional. I'm proud of being an NCC student."
"I thought about putting 'Never too old' on my cap," said Kelly, the youngest of seven children and the first in her family to graduate from college, including nieces and nephews. "It took me eight years to get that two-year degree," she said.
Kelly, the mother of two adolescents who teaches 2-year-olds at St. Paul's Christian School, studied early childhood education. Neither of her parents graduated from high school.
Going back to school has "made a tremendous difference," and she is proud to be setting an example for her own children.
"I'm a much better teacher, a better parent, a good role model," she said. "My kids, I'm sure will go to college. I think every generation has to make things better for the next."