Northwestern Connecticut Community College (NCCC) held its 55th commencement ceremony at the Five Points Center for the Visual Arts on Thursday, May 27. It was a very unique ceremony with graduates all in automobiles during the event.
Northwestern Connecticut Community College (NCCC) held its 55th commencement ceremony at the Five Points Center for the Visual Arts on Thursday, May 27. It was a very unique ceremony with graduates all in automobiles during the event.

NORTHWEST CORNER — Due to Covid constraints during the school year, for many students and professors at Northwestern Connecticut Community College (NCCC) school year 2020-2021 may have seemed like a dark road filled with constant Zoom meetings, virtual classrooms, and endless emails.
But after years of hard work, including working through a worldwide pandemic, 163 students graduated at NCCC’s 55th commencement ceremony, which was held at the Five Points Center for the Visual Arts, the former University of Connecticut campus, on Thursday, May 27.
Due to Covid restrictions and in order to increase social distancing, it was a “drive-thru” event.
Graduating students and their families all gathered in their cars, which were parked in front of the stage area where NCCC President Michael Rooke, Student of the Year Erin Sullivan, commencement speaker Regional Vice-President of Hartford Healthcare and Charlotte Hungerford Brian Mattiello, and others all gave their speeches.
After the speeches were presented, each graduate drove up to the stage area to receive their diploma, and as they left the Five Points Campus, NCCC professors all cheered for them as they all drove on into the real world.
“I do not have to explain to any of you why this year has been challenging,” Rooke said in his speech. “Last year, we were not able to hold a ceremony at all, and instead we created a YouTube video for our graduates. I am delighted that we are all able to gather here to celebrate your success in this unique way. You have all made it through one of the most challenging times we will have ever seen in our lifetime, and we congratulate you all. Community college students have always had perseverance and grit, but this year above all you have all demonstrated your commitment to keep going despite the challenges, finish what you started, and begin a new chapter in your lives. As we emerge from this pandemic, there will be many opportunities to help you recover and thrive. Take what you have learned from us, what you have learned about yourself, and use that to give back to this community.”
In her speech, Sullivan thanked her professors and expressed gratitude for her classmates.
“Writing this speech has been the toughest assignment I’ve had at NCCC,” Sullivan said. “There is no justifiable way to condense all of our unique experiences into one single narrative.”
Sullivan shared her experiences with NCCC’s Team Success program, which she started in the summer of 2019 with a camping trip.
“Up until this point, I had mastered the art of being a wallflower, existing unnoticed and avoiding any activity that challenged my introverted nature,” Sullivan said. “Camping amongst strangers wasn’t something I was thrilled to do. Self-doubt can become debilitating if we allow it that power. I was afraid that any action would lead to failure. But on this trip, my reluctance to take risks was met by reassurances by my peers.”
She described how her peers helped her conquer self-doubt during the trip to complete a zipline course.
“Before I could entertain any further negative self-doubt resulting in me not trying, students who I met an hour beforehand showered me with words of encouragement, took my hand, and led me up every single step until we stood at a tower together,” she said. “There is an entire crowd of people who probably didn’t know my name yet, but already had so much faith in me. This overwhelming amount of support allowed me to push past feeling uncomfortable to experience what I imagine what it feels like to fly. For the first time, I was seen and accepted simply for existing. It was liberating to not only conquer a zipline course but to be among a community that selflessly empowers others. My experience with the zipline has come to embody my time at Northwestern. Whenever I felt ill-equipped or underprepared, I had an incredible community uplifting me and trusting in my abilities. It was through the support of this community that I found the courage to finally use my voice. The most valuable lesson I have learned over the past two years is that to reach your potential you have to act even when not being sure. You have to continue to stay in motion even when it is uncomfortable and trust in the guidance of those who support you.”
In his speech, Mattiello thanked the graduates and their families for representing “a sense of relief, and a sense of hope that we are all finally feeling.”
“What you have all accomplished is a really big deal,” Mattiello said. “Tonight is more than just getting a degree, it’s about giving a voice to who you are as a person, what you stand for, and who you want to become. I know over time that the investments that you have made at NCCC in time and money will pay dividends throughout your life. Trust in that, and trust in yourself, and trust in everyone who got you here.”
As for advice, he told the graduates to “love what you do. Find what burns in your heart and commit to it.”