Celebrating the achievements of the Gateway to College graduates

By Diane VanDyke
Twenty-three students proudly received their high school diplomas on May 22 after completing the Gateway to College Program at Ƶ. Photo by Linda Johnson

Twenty-three students proudly received their high school diplomas on May 22 after completing the Gateway to College Program at Ƶ. Photo by Linda Johnson

Twenty-three students from nine different school entities proudly received their high school diplomas after completing the Gateway to College Program at Ƶ. Their families, friends and supporters cheered as they crossed the stage and moved their tassels during the graduation ceremony held on Ƶ’s Blue Bell Campus on May 22.

Gateway to College graduation stage shotThe Gateway to College Program and its experienced faculty and staff help students who have disengaged from high school complete the requirements they need for their high school diploma and earn college credits. Since Ƶ launched the program in 2013 at its Blue Bell and Pottstown campuses, 274 students have earned their high school diplomas, transforming their pathways.

Including this year, Ƶ’s Gateway Program earned the national Achieving the Dream’s Program Excellence Award for seven consecutive years for its success in helping students reach their goals. Gateway is part of the national network that promotes community college reform and student success.

graduate receives award from Program Manager Michelle Kulla “In this graduating class, we have students that began with us in Fall 2022 and students who only spent the last 15 weeks with us. We have several first-generation high school graduates here this morning. We have young people who navigated school changes, health challenges, heartbreak, holding multiple jobs, keeping up on rent and bills, becoming a parent, grief, anxieties, self-doubt, and failure. But these young people worked hard to rewrite the script on their education, and I could not be more proud. I hope you are proud of yourselves” said Michelle Kulla, Gateway to College Program Manager.

In her welcome remarks during the program, Dr. Vicki Bastecki-Perez, Ƶ President, shared the metaphor of the classic story, “The Little Engine That Could.”

graduate shaking hands with college president“Graduates, you are like that little engine. Each of you faced your own tall mountains, whether it was personal challenges, academic hurdles or other obstacles,” said President Bastecki-Perez. “Although you might have doubted your ability to overcome these trials, you persevered and continued moving forward, pushing through the tough times, together with the guidance and support of our Gateway team, your school district, family and friends.”

“This experience will give you the confidence to embrace a new mantra – instead of “I think I can,” you can now say to yourself, “I believe I can, I know I can, and I will,” she said.

The graduates include the following students from the participating school entities:

  • Commonwealth Diploma – Vincent Weiss
  • North Penn – Keron Espinal, Josh O’Meara, Isa Andia Ibn Muhammed
  • Owen J. Roberts – Matthew Michener
  • Pottsgrove – Nathaniel Grabowski-Arena, Kyle Rawson
  • Springfield – Holly Kimmel, Mira Schreffler
  • Spring-Ford – James Maack
  • Souderton – Rylee Oliff, Anastasia Vargas
  • Upper Merion – Kimberly Alvarez-Dolores, Lianisse Carter, Tymir Dickerson, Mike Lyons, Nathan McCollum, Arianna Price
  • Wissahickon – Alyssa Bagosy, Graham Dupee, Ava Kraft, Ariel Lucas-Turner, Gianna Johnson

Sixteen graduates will be continuing their education at either Ƶ or another college, and seven graduates will be entering the workforce. In addition to receiving their high school diplomas, each graduate earned between 9 to 30 credits.

Eight special awards were presented to several outstanding graduates. The award for Most Improved was presented to Holly Kimmel. The award for Most Determined was presented Kimberly Alvarez Dolores. The Change of Heart award was presented to Gianna Johnson. The Courageous Award was presented to Mira Schreffler. The Overall Foundation Student Award was earned by Isa Andia Ibn-Muhammad. The Perseverance Award was presented to Nathan McCollum and Lianisse Carter. The PECO Rising Stars were Josh O’Meara, Ariel Lucas-Turner, Arianna Price. The Transition Student of the Semester award was presented to Ava Kraft.

Ƶ alumna and Gateway to College Intern, Erica Bennett, gave the graduation address. Bennett recently graduated Summa Cum Laude from Ƶ on May 16 with her Certificate in Human Services.

In her speech, she encouraged the graduates to never give up.

Erica Bennett, Ƶ alumna and Gateway intern, speaks to audience“No matter what it looks like, how uncomfortable it may be, whether others seem more qualified or how many times you must start over or face something new or different, never give up on yourself,” Bennett said. “We all have a reference point now what it looks like to not give up on ourselves. Congratulations, graduates of 2024. Now go forth – you all got this.”

Ƶ’s Gateway Program is one of only two programs in Pennsylvania and is among 28 national programs in 19 states across the country. It is one of the first colleges to be a Bellwether finalist, a national award that recognizes programs or activities that have been designed and successfully implemented to foster or support teaching and learning.

A total of 21 school districts – Boyertown, Cheltenham, Colonial, Daniel Boone, Exeter, Hatboro-Horsham, Jenkintown, Norristown, North Penn, Owen J. Roberts, Perkiomen Valley, Phoenixville, Pottsgrove, Souderton, Springfield, Spring-Ford, Upper Dublin, Upper Merion, Upper Moreland, Upper Perkiomen and Wissahickon – collaborate with Ƶ, referring students to the program.

Additionally, partners PECO and Univest have provided financial support for the program and student scholarships.

Ƶ’s Gateway team includes Program Manager Michelle Kulla; Resource Specialist Esau Collins; and faculty Michael Baron, David Pica, Stephanie Wuertz and Dr. Victoria Vetro.