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5,500 get degrees at last EGCC graduation

YOUNGSTOWN — College graduation is a happy day for most, but the day was bittersweet for those celebrating the spring 2024 class of Eastern Gateway Community College.

About 1,000 students gathered Saturday at Stambaugh Auditorium, surrounded by friends and family, for what was likely the final commencement ceremony in the college’s nearly 60-year history. Eastern Gateway held three ceremonies Friday and Saturday for its more than 5,500 graduates.

“It’s a shame because it honestly was a great opportunity and it’s going to be a very sad loss for the Youngstown community,” said Cassandra Phibbs of Hubbard.

Phibbs graduated with an associate degree in nursing and is already a registered nurse working at Ohio Living Home Health and Hospice in Canfield. A licensed practicing nurse for eight years prior, she decided to advance her career, she said. Phibbs said she was able to use her brother Daniel’s General Motors union benefit to attend the college for free.

Phibbs and her classmates maintained an air of excitement and celebration as the ceremony began, meeting speakers’ words of praise and congratulations with regular applause.

“You may often hear from friends or family members, ‘Calm down, it’s not all about you,'” said Eastern Gateway Interim President John Crooks. “Well, welcome to Stambaugh Auditorium, and today is all about you.”

Crooks first yielded the podium to summa cum laude graduate Kimberly Boyer of East Texas, Pa. A mother of three, Boyer has made the most of her time at Eastern Gateway, serving as chapter president of Phi Theta Kappa, the international college honor society; secretary of student government, student ambassador and TRIO scholar. TRIO is a group of programs that assist students to obtain post-secondary education.

Boyer delivered an emotional address, noting the ceremony carried a sense of sadness, but encouraging her classmates to think highly of themselves and each other for all they have accomplished.

“I told someone this morning that I’m proud of them, and they said that was the first time since they’ve been here that anyone told them they are proud of them,” she said. “So I want everyone to take a minute and look at the person next to you, and tell them that. You all now have an entire class that is proud of you.”

Crooks then introduced the commencement speaker, Edward Florak, who served as president of Jefferson Community College, Eastern Gateway’s predecessor institution, from 1985 to 1998.

Florak spent a bit of time discussing the institution’s history, from its founding as a technical college serving Jefferson County in 1965 to its transition in 2009 to Eastern Gateway. It provided service as well to Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.

Florak said at one point, the college began providing “business and industry training,” which was not given the same financial support by the state, and so was seen as a frivolous expense. Florak said his institution felt it was their responsibility because they were supported by levy dollars from taxpayers, and that service was what the businesses in the community told Jefferson they needed.

That training would become a significant part of Jefferson’s and, later, Eastern Gateway’s curriculum and the school’s legacy, he said.

“Know today that, although your alma mater may no longer exist, you are the product of benefits and services, and that can never be erased,” he said.

Florak told the crowd to remain optimistic about EGCC’s future, quoting baseball great Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over til it’s over.”

Following Florak’s address, the students lined up to hear their names called, receive their diplomas, and take the next steps in their lives and careers.

Alesia Code of Warren, a parent advocate at Youngstown City School District, said she is excited to begin her career as a PreK and kindergarten teacher, after graduating with an associate of arts in teacher education.

“I want to be one of those teachers that when kids grow up, they say ‘I remember Miss Alesia’. I feel like my input can really make an impact in our educational system,” she said.

Have an interesting story? Contact Dan Pompili by email at dpompili@vindy.com. Follow us on X, formerly Twitter, @TribToday.

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