Steven Hollies wants his fellow graduates at Howard Community College to “own your story.”
“We have the power to write and tell our own story,” Hollies said in an interview. “You control how you look at your life, and don’t let other things control that because that’s our power.”
Hollies was selected as the student speaker for HCC’s spring graduation ceremony. He spoke before family, friends, professors and others in the new University of Maryland, Baltimore County Event Center in Catonsville.
An estimated 1,332 candidates — anticipated to earn 1,479 degrees and certifications — were eligible for graduation at Friday’s ceremony, according to an HCC spokeswoman.
For the 48th commencement ceremony, the graduation candidates represented 111 different countries.
Ralph Semmel, director of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, delivered the commencement address. He also received an honorary degree.
Semmel, calling HCC “truly a treasure,” urged students to appreciate their unique qualities and build upon them to make the world a better place, to be bold and to do great things.
“With your new HCC degrees, and we need expertise from all of your disciplines, you have a wonderful opportunity to have a positive impact on the world,” he said.
The Howard County Times asked graduating students, including Hollies, about their experience attending HCC and advice they had for anyone, high school age or older, who is questioning whether attending community college is a good fit for them.
Steven Hollies, 27
Rockville resident, two associates degrees in English and general studies
Students benefit from the small class sizes and personal attention from professors, Hollies said.
“The personal attention, for my sake, has been pretty remarkable. I would never be where I’m at without so many people, and I am very grateful for that,” he said.
As a full-time student at HCC the past year, Hollies was named the English and World Languages Division Outstanding Student and the TRIO Student Support Services First-Year Student of the Year.
He isn’t done with HCC yet, however. He is studying abroad in Ireland this summer through an HCC Educational Foundation scholarship.
In September, Hollies will attend Aberystwyth University in Wales, United Kingdom, and study creative writing.
Keenan Eldridge, 19
Columbia resident, associate degree in social sciences
“I can’t begin to say even one thank you,” Eldridge said. “I am extremely appreciative and happy that I have chosen HCC for a variety of reasons, [as] I was able to grow the branches on my tree.”
At HCC, Eldridge was in the James W. Rouse Scholars Program; participated in Howard P.R.I.D.E, a mentor program and support organization for black male students; and was part of the Alpha Achievers program, where he worked with black male high school students and encouraged them to prepare for college, among other organizations.
With Alpha Achievers, Eldridge opened the students’ minds “to not canceling out community college.” He worked with students at Long Reach and Howard high schools.
“One of the biggest anxieties I found in the students is they didn't know if they could be a successful college student,” he said. “HCC was a foundation, and it displayed that I can be a productive college student.”
Eldridge will attend UMBC in the fall, majoring in psychology.
Naomi Narat, 19
Woodbine resident, two associate degrees in general studies and social sciences
Narat, who was home-schooled before attending HCC, didn’t have a “clear sense of direction” of what she wanted to do when she stepped on campus. She knew she wanted to incorporate science and something in the medical field. During her time at HCC, she found her path.
“I tell my siblings and anyone else … two-year colleges in general [are] great if you don't know what you want to do. It’s a cheaper path or if you want to take your time in progressing to the next step,” she said.
During her time at HCC, Narat was the co-president of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, a Frederick K. Schoenbrodt Scholar, and worked in the science and mathematics departments.
With the goal to become a nurse practitioner, Narat will attend the University of Maryland School of Nursing at Shady Grove to continue her studies.