AUGUSTA — Joe Turlo likes computers.

He works with them, he works on them and he has built his own.

Now that he’s secured his business administration degree — more precisely, it’s an associate degree in applied science, computer systems integration — the 25-year-old Clinton resident said he’ll work at a local information technology company and make plans to complete his computer-centered education, probably in the University of Maine system.

Turlo joined more than 220 of his classmates assembled Saturday for the Kennebec Valley Community College commencement at the Augusta Civic Center; he’s one of 477 graduates to celebrate the completion of their associate degrees or certificate programs. Saturday’s commencement was the college’s 46th.

In giving his brief comments to the packed room, John Dalton, chairman of the Kennebec Valley Community College Foundation Board of Trustees, said he thought he would have a lot in common with the graduates seated in front of him, who in many cases are, like him, the first in their families to earn a college degree. That’s just about where the similarities ended.

“I recall that my parents paid my tuition. And I lived in a dorm no more than 20 minutes from my classes,” he said. He was not, he said, balancing school work with a full-time job, or a single parent, or facing a mid-life career change when he did.

“It is humbling to stand in front of you,” Dalton said. “Be very proud of what you have accomplished.”

The demographic statistics of the KVCC class of 2016 show that more than two-thirds of the graduates are the first in their families to graduate from a college program. A little more than half the graduates are female, and the college’s nursing program had the largest group of graduates. Forty percent of the graduates are 25 or younger, and the average student age is 31.

The personal statistics for Erin Falconer, of Waterville, show a path to graduation that not many could travel successfully. In her commencement address, KVCC’s student of the year said Saturday’s commencement was the first she had ever attended. She had dropped out of high school, became addicted to drugs, suffered mental illness, was homeless and spent time in prison. She was able to turn things around and offered some hard-won perspective to her classmates.

Take risks, she said. One of the most dangerous things you can do is to play it safe.

Own your own story. “Know who you are,” she said. Telling her own story helped to her to heal and to spread awareness about the circumstances of her life.

“Live without regrets,” she said. “People always ask me, do I regret what I’ve done? No. I am so grateful for my struggles.” Strength, she said, rose in the moments when she thought she couldn’t go on.

“If your dreams don’t come true, it’s OK to start all over again. Take risks. Make mistakes. Be yourself and have no regrets about it.”

In the stands, families and friends waited with excitement and sometimes impatience for the name of their graduate to be called. They showed their approval with applause, with shouts and whistles — and occasionally with an air horn.

And then, less than two hours after it started, the ceremony was done.

Standing with his family in the spring heat outside the Augusta Civic Center, Turlo wasn’t ready for any hard questions. “I thought I was done with that,” he said. Instead, he was ready for the easier question of what the afternoon might bring: lunch at Big G’s Deli in Waterville and an afternoon of fishing on the lake.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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