More than 1,500 get degrees at HCCC

The Hudson County Community College Class of 2023 found ways to demonstrate commitment, determination and strength despite setbacks and challenges as they successfully pursued their academic dreams. The career changers, siblings, parents and their children, single parents, immigrants, students with disabilities, incarcerated and previously incarcerated students, early college high school students and others — all of whom transformed their lives through higher education — received their college degrees as HCCC celebrated its 46th commencement Wednesday, May 17, 2023 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison.

More than 1,500 graduates — a record number — were joined at the event by family, friends, elected officials, the college’s trustees, HCCC administrators, faculty and staff.

“As the Class of 2023 embarks upon the next chapters of their lives, we know they will continue to demonstrate the fortitude, perseverance and leadership that brought them success as HCCC students,” HCCC President Christopher Reber said. “We celebrate them and their families.”

Here are just a few of the Class of 2023’s inspiring stories.

The daughter of immigrants from Cuba and Spain, Marlenne Andalia was born and raised in Union City. After her mother’s death, Marlenne, a single mom whose teenage son attended the HCCC Early College Program, opted to pursue her associate degree in psychology at HCCC.

While struggling with a learning disability, health issue and financial hardship, her son motivated her to persevere and continue working for her degree.

“I worked with special needs children and wanted to better understand their behaviors and to help them academically,” she said. “In earning this degree, I went through so many obstacles. Learning to write was one of my biggest struggles. I needed a lot of patience. I want to help others with their disabilities and teach them techniques to learn new skills.”

Rejected by his religious, conservative family and a Bible college after he came out as gay, Jersey City resident Anthony Alkuino was lost and confused. He dropped out of Hudson County Community College when juggling two jobs and academic rigors proved too difficult.

During the pandemic, he became unemployed, survived on canned food, faced eviction, lost his best friend to suicide and delivered food for a Times Square restaurant. Depression and anxiety weighed on him as he witnessed social unrest and homelessness.

Anthony’s reconciliation with his family, plus a network of mental health support services at the college and financial assistance motivated him to complete his HCCC associate degree in human services/pre-social work.

“I had hit rock bottom emotionally,” Alkuino said. “I know that my journey is not over, and I have a long way to go, but the healing continues to propel me forward. Whenever I think of giving up, I look back to see how far I’ve come.”

Enrolling at HCCC at age 60, Bloomfield resident B. Ann Davis was inspired by a  culinary arts banner she spotted while walking through Journal Square.

“I walked down the street and the culinary arts building was having an open house. That was a sign for me to go to school and take the culinary arts classes. I love and enjoy cooking, so I registered and now I am graduating,” she said.

She has completed her HCCC associate degree in culinary arts.

Siblings Julie and Steven Elias Rosario celebrated each other’s accomplishments together. Julie received her HCCC associate degree in business administration and Steven received his HCCC associate degree in liberal arts.

“As a family, we have been through many ups and downs, but through it all, God has shown his faithfulness. Who would have thought we’d be graduating together? It may not have been in our thoughts, but I know that it was in God’s perfect plan,” Julie said.

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.