May 17, 2022

Students Express Gratitude, Pride and Optimism for Future

PORTSMOUTH – Great Bay Community College celebrated its 76th Commencement at 10 a.m. May 14 with an in-person ceremony that might remind people what life was like before the pandemic.

“We are moving from having to host three smaller graduations in the past due to the pandemic to one completely open graduation ceremony that includes students from all programs together for one ceremony” said Dr. Cheryl Lesser, president of Great Bay Community College. “Instead of pulling inward, we are looking out into the world and are excited to again be able to be more community oriented.”

The celebration will feel hopeful, despite the challenges of the pandemic, conflict overseas, and economic uncertainty at home. “The pandemic has taught us a lot about ourselves, how we want to work, how we want to live, and what we want to do next,” Lesser said. “Whether they are joining the workforce, continuing their education, or choosing something else, the students who are graduating now have more choices and more opportunity than ever before.”

This May, the college will award over 300 degrees or certificates, and 150 students are expected to receive their diploma in person.

Befitting the times, a nurse and healthcare pioneer will deliver the keynote address. Maine resident Elizabeth McLellan, a global leader in nursing and healthcare administration and president and founder of Maine-based Partners for World Health, will talk about the importance and challenges of global health equity. Partners for World Health collects and recycles discarded medical supplies through global partnerships.

Brigid Emma Murphy, graduating with an associate in arts degree in psychology, was the student keynote speaker.

Brigid Emma Murphy, graduating with an associate in arts degree in psychology, will be the student commencement speaker.

In number of graduates, the top three programs this year are Nursing, with 40 students

scheduled to receive associate degrees; Business Administration, with 36 students in line for associate degrees; and Welding Technologies, the most popular certificate program, with 26 students scheduled for graduation.

Katie Cilley, former president of the Great Bay Student Nurses Association, is among the nursing graduates. Before becoming a nurse, she was a nursing assistant and emergency medical technician. “I want to be nurse because I want to help my patients in ways I couldn’t as a nursing assistant and EMT. By becoming a nurse, I can be a great advocate for the patients I care for,” said Cilley, who will work in the intensive care unit at Concord Hospital.

“Commencement validates the hard work I’ve done and dedication I have given to the medical field and my patients over the years, in the hospital and on the ambulance. Every experience has led me to this day,” she said. “Nursing is truly like family. I have enjoyed being together on campus and spending clinicals together. I have enjoyed taking my time to achieve this degree, and being able to take my general education course prior to the nursing program really saved me.”

For Student Marshall Cedrine Disch, commencement means getting to see her mom for the first time since the pandemic. An international student from Switzerland who is receiving an associate degree in Business Administration, Disch hasn’t seen her family in more than two years. Her mother is flying from Switzerland to help her celebrate.

“It means a lot to me that she is coming to visit me. I am looking forward to showing her my college life and what I have accomplished so far,” said Disch, who lives in York. “I want to make my family proud. I am excited for her to meet some of the faculty members who have been very important to me during my college experience.”

After she graduates, Disch will stay at Great Bay to earn a Leadership & Management certificate from the Business & Training Center. After that, she will continue her education at Southern New Hampshire University.

Alissa Heitmann, who is receiving an associate in science in Surgical Technology, is going to work. Before she finished school, she had three offers to begin her career in operating rooms around Massachusetts and New Hampshire. She accepted a position at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, where she will work on a team performing open-heart surgeries. “I couldn’t be more thrilled,” Heitmann said.

She will graduate without any debt, and she credits Great Bay for providing a supportive, positive, and inclusive learning environment, which enabled her to thrive. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without Great Bay,” Heitmann said. “My teachers provided me with such solid footing that I was able to excel in my clinical rotation. The work was rigorous and hard, but worth it.”

Tina Favara, vice president of Student Success and Enrollment Management, said this year’s graduating class showed resilience, determination, and creativity, and excelled while overcoming the challenges of adapting the learning process to the turmoil of the pandemic. At the same time, students came together, helping each other and reaching out to volunteer in the community.

“These students have worked hard for everything they’ve achieved,” Favara said. “They are well-prepared to move forward, and we are excited to see what they do next. We’re very proud of our students and all they have accomplished at Great Bay and everything they will do next.”

Like the majority of GBCC students, Sean Smith had to balance a busy work schedule with classes.  The years of effort will finally come to fruition on Saturday when Smith will be receiving his associate in arts degree in teacher preparation.

“I’ve been attending Great Bay community college since 2016, and I can say this has been a life-changing experience. GBCC has been the home of my academic success and bestowed on me that anything is possible…Within every class, I learned something new about myself and how I can apply it to my career in education. The instructors here, instilled in me the confidence to realize my full potential.” Smith plans to continue his education in Elementary Education at Granite State College.

Great Bay Community College is a comprehensive postsecondary institution offering quality academic and professional and technical education in support of workforce development and lifelong learning. Great Bay Community College is part of the Community College System of New Hampshire, a public system of higher education consisting of seven colleges in Berlin, Claremont, Laconia, Concord, Manchester, Nashua, and Portsmouth. The colleges offer Associate degrees and career training in technical, professional and general fields, including transfer pathways to baccalaureate degrees. For more information on Great Bay Community College, visit