SOUTH PORTLAND — Southern Maine Community College awarded a record number of degrees Sunday when hundreds of students were joined by family and friends at the school’s 71st commencement.

In all, 1,120 students earned 1,156 degrees and certificates during the past academic year, with nearly 500 of them marching in graduation ceremonies at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. Those numbers represent the highest graduation and degree counts in SMCC’s history, exceeding the 2016 totals of 1,091 students receiving 1,123 degrees.

Students in the class of 2018 ranged in age from 19 to 69 and came from across Maine, 18 other states and 22 foreign countries. About 10 percent of the graduates – 111 students – are members of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.

SMCC President Ron Cantor presided over the ceremonies.

“Graduation is a time for us to celebrate the many successes of our students,” Cantor said. “The class of 2018 has distinguished itself, and our graduates are destined for success as they advance their careers or continue their education.”

The keynote speech was delivered by Ninette Irabaruta, an SMCC alumna who fled violence and political oppression in her native central African country of Burundi before earning a degree at SMCC. She’s working toward a master’s degree at Brandeis University.

Some members of SMCC’s class of 2018 plan to continue their educations at the University of Southern Maine, the University of Maine and the University of New England, as well as other in- and out-of-state private and public colleges, including Bentley, Emerson and Smith.

Graduates entering the workforce have landed jobs at hospitals, law enforcement agencies, restaurants, fire departments, creative agencies and other companies and organizations in Maine and elsewhere.

Ruthee Reynolds has a job awaiting her as a respiratory therapist at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. A mother of two who lives in Bucksport and previously worked as a certified nursing assistant, she commuted six hours daily to and from SMCC.

“I wanted to make a better life for my kids,” she said. “I looked into respiratory therapy and decided it would fit me personally, so I went for it. I feel like I am definitely well-prepared to be the best respiratory therapist I can be.”

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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