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RPCC celebrates resilient Class of 2020

RESERVE — River Parishes Community College Chancellor Dale Doty has worked in higher education for decades, and he has never seen a year where graduation ceremonies were universally disrupted.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has limited large gatherings, the RPCC team felt it was important to recognize the students who have gone above and beyond to improve their lives and economic well-being.

Nearly 130 Reserve campus graduates participated in a drive-thru graduation ceremony this week. The drive-thru set up allowed graduates to pick up diplomas, honor cords and yard signs while celebrating their achievements with the teachers and staff who have been by their side for the entire journey.

Every graduation is a cause for celebration, according to Doty.

RPCC team members are excited to see the Class of 2020 graduates.

“Everybody that finishes college ought to have the opportunity for some sort of graduation ceremony,” Doty said. “This is our effort to make that happen in unusual circumstances that no one could have predicted. Three months ago, we didn’t know what was going to happen.We’re trying to recognize the wonderful work that each one of these individuals has done for themselves and their families.”

The drive-thru ceremonies were conducted in Reserve, Plaquemines and Gonzales.

“Since we have several locations, we decided it would be better to go where the students are instead of having all of them come to one place,” Doty said.

Process technology was the most popular program among the 127 Reserve campus graduates, according to RPCC staff. The oldest graduate was 52 years old, while the youngest was 19.

Nineteen graduates earned a High School Equivalency Diploma through RPCC’s WorkReady U adult education program. The scholars are now ready to transition to college and career pathways.

River Parishes Community College faculty members wave to a graduate riding by during Tuesday’s graduation celebration.

2020 graduate Claudia Diggs drove through in a convertible Lexus wearing a cap and gown. Her cap was decorated with two purple flowers and a written message that shared the significance of her milestone: “I Came Up From Nothing. Just Imagine That Now I Got My Own. Just IMAGINE THAT 2020.”

Two 2019 graduates, Caden Notarino and Jamie Barker, drove through in support of the RPCC students and faculty that have become extended family. The couple attended high school together and enrolled together in RPCC’s process technology program. Now, they are engaged and ready to take on the future together.

Every RPCC student has a story. Some study to provide a financial foundation for their family. Many put their degree to action with a career to drive the local economy, while others continue their education at larger universities.

2020 graduate Jeffrey Hall wanted to set a positive example and show others what it means to strive for success.

“I have nephews and nieces coming up behind me, and I just try to be a role model for them and for the parish,” Hall said.

After graduating from St. Charles Catholic High School, Hall earned his bachelor’s degree at Nicholls State University in 2016. By fall 2017, Hall was enrolled at River Parishes Community College, studying instrumentation.

His educational path hasn’t been traditional, but it has all been worth it. Two semesters into his RPCC education, Hall attended a career fair and secured a job working in local industry.

He took a few semesters off from school when an opportunity arose to play arena football with the Duke City Gladiators in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His athletic career extended to a position with the Green Bay Blizzard indoor football team before he returned to the Reserve campus to finish his degree.

2020 graduate Bryce Jessie poses with his diploma.

Upon returning home, he received a job offer from Marathon Petroleum, where he currently works as an operator.

Hall said River Parishes Community College helped him gain experience that is in demand across the nation. In the future, he sees himself walking across the stage with a master’s degree in hand to reach new heights in the petrochemical industry.

2020 graduate Mason Marse represents another 2020 success story.

After graduating from St. Charles Catholic, Marse wanted to follow in the footsteps of successful family members working in process technology.

Marse said the atmosphere at RPCC was very friendly, and he always felt comfortable when he went to class.

“My time at RPCC helped me grow and learn,” Marse said. “It helped me with my future career, and I enjoyed every minute. The teachers were very helpful. I was able to learn a lot.”

Marse enjoyed the drive-thru graduation, noting it was a great way to have a ceremony without gathering. His only regret was not being able to spend more time in the classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic since he prefers hands-on learning to virtual instruction.

Julian Surla, chief student affairs officer at RPCC, said it took an all hands on deck approach to adjust to these unprecedented times. The college is continuing to follow all CDC guidelines, including checking temperatures when individuals enter the building. The campus facilities had a professional deep cleaning, and many employees are still working from home.

“All of our general education is online. There are some technical classes that you physically have to do in-person, and it’s more of a hybrid thing,” Surla said. “There are scheduled times for students to come in, and when they do come, it’s fewer students and they are six feet apart. Science labs and welding are things that you unfortunately can’t do online.”

The RPCC Foundation also facilitated online learning by giving students the technology needed to complete their coursework.