Hudson County Community College Class of 2019 Includes Immigrants, Career Changers, and Others Who Overcame Immense Challenges

Posted: 5/29/2019
Jennifer Christopher, 201-360-4061, jchristopher@hccc.edu

Governor Phil Murphy will deliver the commencement address on May 30th at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ.

May 29, 2019, Jersey City, NJ – Hudson County Community College (HCCC) will hold its 42nd Annual Commencement this Thursday, May 30, at 6 p.m. at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy will deliver the keynote speech to the 1,383 members of the Class of 2019 and their families and friends.

The event includes welcoming remarks from HCCC President Dr. Chris Reber, and greetings from the Board of Trustees and Hudson County Executive Thomas A. DeGise. Deborah Acevedo of Jersey City will deliver the valedictory address. WomenRising will be presented with the Heritage Award.

The HCCC Class of 2019 includes women and men from diverse backgrounds, many of whom refused to let age, illness, homelessness, and economic obstacles deter them from pursuing higher education.

Here are just a few of their stories:

Jorge Antor put college on hold for 23 years before returning to HCCC. "I started college in 1993 when I had just gotten into the United States. I had to stop my studies because it was imperative for me to get more than one job at the time to support my family,” Mr. Antor stated. “I came back to college in 2016, and finally, I can finish my Associate in Business Administration. I'm 44, and my son Jeremy Antor, who is 21, is also graduating from HCCC, which makes me proud. It is never too late for college.”

Tariq Baxley is an Education major who battled depression, joblessness, and academic setbacks. “My HCCC Student Success Professor Jenny Henriquez motivated me, told me to put my best foot forward, forget about the past, do better, and never give up. I took her advice and registered for all online classes,” she said. “When Fall semester ended, I still had no job. I passed all my classes except math, but I didn't let that discourage me. I pushed myself and got out of my house and sat in the library every morning, from opening till closing. I passed all my classes and got a job. I have also made the Dean’s List and became an EOF English Tutor. I encourage anyone with mental health problems to keep pushing.”

Tangela Cook is a mother of two and a domestic violence survivor who also overcame homelessness. Last year, the Early Childhood Education major began working for Essex County Regional Education Commission. She obtained a substitute teacher license and works at a Montclair high school. “I did it on my own and with the help of one of my HCCC professors who set up a GoFundMe account to help me buy things for my apartment,” Ms. Cook stated. “I am so grateful. A college education is something I have worked on since 2010. I am so excited to touch the finish line. I've been through a lot, but I made it. This is just the beginning.”

Carlos Fernandez is a Honduran immigrant, and the first in his family to earn a college degree. The Computer Science major said, “My biggest obstacle was the language barrier. But now I proudly say that I can understand and assimilate more through this beautiful language. When I first came here five years ago, I started working as a dishwasher in a small Jersey City Heights restaurant. I enrolled in the HCCC ESL program. After a year and a half, I started taking the classes of my major. I worked full time for a cleaning company in Manhattan, from 5 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. This schedule has been convenient because I could be a full-time student during the day. I usually get home at 2 a.m. and wake up around 6:30 a.m. to get ready for class at 8 a.m. That has been my routine for almost two years.”

Melissa Greywolf of North Bergen majored in Liberal Arts and returned to school for the first time in decades. "I went through so much not only to get to, but to get through this school. After never passing the ninth grade, I hadn’t sat in a classroom in 36 years. Things had changed, including my memory, making it twice as hard to accomplish things. Being a single mom of a special-needs child and not having help of any kind was difficult, especially while trying to meet assignment deadlines. I even had a fractured foot two weeks before the first semester ended, and was walking to school that way. I made it to the end, and I am graduating,” Ms. Greywolf said.

Sarra Hayoune has achieved national acclaim as one of the College’s brightest and most accomplished students. The Computer Science major plans to pursue a four-year degree in Astrophysics. Born and raised in Algeria, she emigrated to the United States in 2014. Her spouse, also an HCCC student, encouraged her to take ESL classes after their son was born. Ms. Hayoune then set her sights on the HCCC Computer Science program. Consequently, she served as an Astrophysics Research intern and presented her findings at the American Museum of Natural History, the 16th Annual Physical Sciences REU Student Symposium, and at Queensborough Community College. Her accolades include: Jack Kent Cooke 2019 Scholar, Coca-Cola Leaders of Promise and Academic Team Silver (2018, 2019), Garden State S-STEM Scholarship (2017, 2018), Research & Development Council of New Jersey Merit Scholarship (2018), STEM Tutor of the Year (2018), and Dean’s List (four semesters, 2017). “All of the opportunities I have are the result of Hudson County Community College. The College means a lot to me; my professors and mentors have opened so many doors for me,” she stated.

Martina Nevado was born and raised in Lima, Peru. The 52-year-old Fine Arts – Studio Arts major worked in childcare for 15 years and raised three children before enrolling at HCCC. “From a young age, I knew that I wanted to teach art. I was always designing and creating; usually made my own toys and outfits," said Ms. Nevado. "HCCC allowed me the opportunity to realize more than one dream. I got a Fashion Design certification here in 2006 and showed my collection at Harlem Fashion Week 2018. One of my artworks was purchased by a resident of a recognized school. I was invited to join the National Society of Leadership Success and Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. Now I'm getting my degree. I always had an attachment to this institution. I never felt intimidated. HCCC has excellent, supportive teachers. Studying at my age has its advantages. The good thing is that you see everything from another point of view, with more experience and maturity.”

Daniel Parker is a Theatre Arts major from Jersey City who has toured Europe, South America, and the United States with the Broadway musical “Ain’t Misbehavin.” He was employed as a cook for 10 years and sold housewares, clothes, beds, and outdoor furniture. An ordained minister, he preached in Italy and Mexico. “Early on in 2016, I started having a recurring dream about being in school. I had finished high school, but college had always frustrated me. Twice I had tried, and both times I did not make it beyond the first semester. I investigated several schools and decided on a New York City school that offered a B.A. in Gospel Music. I auditioned and was accepted, but the tuition was more than I could afford. HCCC welcomed me. It was daunting starting school again, but it was exciting realizing a longtime dream," Mr. Parker said.

Abderahim Salhi of Jersey City is an Algerian immigrant and Computer Science major. He is Chapter president of the Sigma Kappa Delta and Phi Theta Kappa honor societies, and Vice President of the STEM Club. Mr. Salhi’s honors and scholarships include Coca-Cola All-USA Academic Team member, New Century Transfer Pathway, Pearson Scholar, Hites Scholar, HCCC Excellence Award, and GS-LSAMP Scholar. He is married to HCCC student Sarra Hayoune, who is also graduating. Mr. Salhi plans to continue his education at Columbia University.

Keemorah Simon is a Bakery and Pastry Arts major who was born and raised in St. Croix. “I flew from my hometown to pursue my goals. I faced many challenges, including financial, personal, and job hardships. But I believe in perseverance. My grades proved it. I made the Dean’s List every semester,” she stated. “I missed my family in St. Croix but I knew they were praying for my success. I was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. Chef Courtney Payne was there for me from the beginning. She puts herself out every day for her students.”

Keischa Taylor of Jersey City battled cancer twice and is graduating with a degree in Human Services/Pre-Social Work. She enrolled at HCCC to obtain the credits needed to return to the four-year college she had previously attended. "My journey was long. However, I never gave up on myself. I paused because as a woman going through physical changes, your self-esteem drops to a low. Your emotions play different mind games on you, but I had to persevere. I had to do this not only for myself but also for my two sons. I’m achieving my goal of receiving my B.A. at the age of 50. My story: The skies the limit, and there's no age limit on higher education,” she said.

Jissell Varela is a Criminal Justice major from Union City. “I’m the first in both my mother’s and father’s sides of the family to earn a degree. As the first to be born as a U.S. citizen, the role to be the very first has been hard and has put pressure on my shoulders. It has also taught me a lot; like not to give up and to keep pushing, as all my work and sweat will pay off. I look forward to taking this role further as I continue my education moving up to university,” Mr. Varela said.

Bo Zheng is a Biology major from Bayonne. “This semester is my last at HCCC. I am going to New Jersey City University in the Fall of 2019. I wanted to share some thoughts about this school. It was a pleasure to attend this college every year. HCCC has helped me improve my writing and mathematics skills that I needed to go to medical school. I will miss the time I had at HCCC dearly,” Mr. Zheng said.