Byline: George Barnes
GARDNER - Just as Mount Wachusett Community College's graduation was set to begin, a defective smoke alarm sent family and friends marching out of the school's Fitness and Wellness Center.
Ten minutes later, after they returned to their seats, 603 members of the class of 2008 marched into the building to celebrate the school's 43rd commencement. The rest of the ceremony went off without a hitch as the college conferred associate's degrees in 25 areas of study and certificates in 22 areas of study.
Ron Claiborne, weekend news anchor for Good Morning America, was the commencement speaker; he told the graduates to first just relax.
"Take it easy. Relax. Pause," he said, adding, "Savor this moment."
And in savoring the moment, he told them to look at the future and consider traveling to other parts of the world.
"Traveling is fun and it gives you an appreciation of different cultures and people, and it gives you a deep, deep appreciation for the splendor of this wondrous planet, an appreciation and a keen awareness that our obligation to try to heal this injured Earth is not just a matter of nobility. It is a matter of survival," he said.
Using an example of a person buying a coffee at the local restaurant Jumpin' Juice and Java, walking out and leaving the next person to pay the bill, Mr. Claiborne said his generation has left the bill to be paid by the generation now graduating from college.
"It doesn't seem fair, does it?" he said. "Well it isn't fair. My generation got to drive cars that got 10 or 12 miles to the gallon, and big comfortable SUVs. Industry spewed pollution into the air and fouled waterways, oceans and lakes. And now the bill is coming due."
Mr. Claiborne told the graduates the time to act is now.
"I didn't create this mess all by myself, but no doubt I contributed to it in some small, careless fashion along the course of my life," he said. "So on behalf of my generation, I apologize for what we did, for the mess we have left you."
Mr. Claiborne told the graduates that they have the power to do something that makes a difference.
The college also honored Mr. Claiborne with a doctor of humane letters degree. Also honored were state Sen. Stephen M. Brewer, D-Barre, who was named a doctor of philosophy, and college Vice President of Academic Affairs Peter J. Trainor, who also received a doctor of philosophy degree.
Alumnus of the year is journalist Birgit Brauer. Ms. Brauer, a 1989 graduate, is working as a correspondent in Kazakhstan for The Economist, covering the political, economic and social situation in Central Asia. She has also worked as a correspondent for The New York Times, Bloomberg News and The Associated Press.
In accepting the honor, Ms. Brauer said she was the first woman in her family to attend college. She credited her Mount Wachusett Community College professors Tony Cherubini and John Koller, both retired, and Vincent Ialenti, now assistant dean of distance learning and instructional technology, for giving her the encouragement and skills needed to succeed.
The college also presented Service Above Self awards to Dr. John and Paula Mulqueen for their work in Haiti; Suzanne Farias, general manager of the Sheraton Four points Hotel in Leominster, for her...