Middlesex Community College commencement speaker and Bedford Police Chief Robert Bongiorno, right, and president James Mabry shake hands during
Middlesex Community College commencement speaker and Bedford Police Chief Robert Bongiorno, right, and president James Mabry shake hands during Thursday's ceremony. (Julia Malakie / Lowell Sun)

LOWELL — Be a lifelong learner. That was the message speakers had for the Middlesex Community College Class of 2019.

On Thursday, 1,198 students graduated from MCC. A smiling, bouncing wave of navy blue overtook the Lowell Memorial Auditorium as the soon-to-be-graduates took their seats for the commencement ceremony. Some students waved to friends and family in the balcony and others called out professors' names as they recognized them passing by.

"Hi!!" one student waved at her professor as she caught his eye. He grinned and waved back.

"This is the day you have been waiting for, you need to bask in the spotlight," commencement speaker Bedford Police Chief Robert Bongiorno told the graduates.

Student speakers Randy Nguyen, left, of Woburn, and Biar Kon, of Lowell, applaud during Thursday’s commencement ceremony.
Student speakers Randy Nguyen, left, of Woburn, and Biar Kon, of Lowell, applaud during Thursday's commencement ceremony. (Julia Malakie / Lowell Sun)

Bongiorno graduated from MCC in 1993. He had always wanted to be a police officer, but Bongiorno didn't follow a direct path to get his degree. He told the students how he had enrolled at MCC but dropped out to attend the department of corrections academy, became a corrections officer and then realized that he needed a college degree. After enrolling at MCC, leaving to attend the police academy and re-enrolling at MCC, Bongiorno obtained an associate's degree and later his master's degree.

"My two-year degree at MCC took me more than four years," Bongiorno said.

Successful people, Bongiorno told the crowd, are hard-workers, team players and lifelong learners.


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"MCC students are workers. You are dedicated, determined, savvy, smart and reliable," Bongiorno said. "This ever-changing and uncertain world needs more people like you, so continue to invest in yourselves, you are worth it," Bongiorno said.

Following Bongiorno's speech, MCC President James Mabry presented Bongiorno with the college's Distinguished Alumni Award.

For many of the graduates, the grit Bongiorno spoke of is what put them in Lowell Memorial Auditorium on Thursday.

Thania Aguirre, of Haverhill, waves as graduates enter the Lowell Memorial Auditorium for Thursday’s Middlesex Community College commencement
Thania Aguirre, of Haverhill, waves as graduates enter the Lowell Memorial Auditorium for Thursday's Middlesex Community College commencement ceremony. See a slide show from the event at www.lowellsun.com. (Julia Malakie / Lowell Sun)

This was certainly the case for student commencement speakers Randy Nguyen and Biar Kon.

"I never thought I would walk across the stage," Nguyen said. "I certainly never imagined standing here and speaking to you."

Nguyen dropped out of high school due to bullying. His family had moved when he was young and Nguyen found himself with no friends at a new school that had few Asian students.

MCC was a different experience for Nguyen.

He stood at the podium beaming and told the crowd he was proud to be the first Vietnamese speaker at MCC commencement. Nguyen also made sure to give a shout-out to the 508 graduates who, like him, were the first generation in their family to attend college.

Middlesex Community College student marshals, from left, Juan Breton of Lowell, Brittany Brown of Westford, Jessica Cobleigh of Pepperell and Kaitlin Fung
Middlesex Community College student marshals, from left, Juan Breton of Lowell, Brittany Brown of Westford, Jessica Cobleigh of Pepperell and Kaitlin Fung of Acton applaud during Thursday's ceremony. (Julia Malakie / Lowell Sun)

Kon's story was equally powerful.

Born in Sudan, Kon lived in Kenya for several years as a refugee before moving to the U.S. with his sister. The International Institute of New England recently named Kon one of the Lowell 100.

Kon's experience in the shelter in Kenya has inspired him to study housing, particularly housing for Africans and other marginalized groups.

Enrolling at MCC, Kon said, was the best decision he ever made.

Their words had an impact on graduate Brittany Brown, 18, of Westford.

"It's not fair, they made me cry first thing at commencement," Brown said.

She was not the only one. Throughout the crowd several students could be seen tearing up.

Lina Chap, of Lowell, waves from the stage during Thursday’s commencement ceremony.
Lina Chap, of Lowell, waves from the stage during Thursday's commencement ceremony. (Julia Malakie / Lowell Sun)

Brown started at MCC at the age of 14. She was home-schooled until then and, like Nguyen and Kon, found the MCC community to be welcoming, even to a 14-year-old.

MCC developed her into the person she is today, Brown said.

It was Brown's first economics class that set her on her current path. She had planned to be a veterinarian, but, thanks to that class, Brown will start at Suffolk University in the fall and will study a triple concentration of philosophy, politics and economics.

"I'm so grateful to this community of people," Brown said.

As she stood, thrilled at having just walked across the stage to accept her diploma, Brown had a lot of celebration ahead of her.

Lowell Mayor Bill Samaras speaks to students during Thursday’s Middlesex Community College commencement ceremony.
Lowell Mayor Bill Samaras speaks to students during Thursday's Middlesex Community College commencement ceremony. (Julia Malakie / Lowell Sun)

"Take a lot of pictures, probably get some food somewhere and try and process what just happened," Brown said.