HAVERHILL — It took Matthew Huggins 10 years to earn a degree from Northern Essex Community College. There was no lack of effort on his part, but when you can’t speak and are unable to write or type with your hands, things take time.
“It was one click of the chin switch at a time,” said his mother, Katherine Ananis of Andover about the switch beneath her son’s chin that connects to computer device mounted to his wheelchair that allows him to express his thoughts in text or a computer voice.
Huggins, 29, graduated from NECC yesterday earning an Associate in Arts, General Studies degree, with high honors.
When it was time for him to receive his diploma, he paused on the podium for a picture with NECC President Lane Glenn. Huggins’ story was one of many that made up NECC’s class of 2013.
Northern Essex Community College held its 51st commencement exercises yesterday under a large tent on the quadrangle of its Haverhill campus.
It was one of the largest graduating classes in the college’s history, with nearly 1,500 graduates receiving certificates and associates degrees. Of those, 65 percent were women, 37 percent were minorities and more than half were first-generation college graduates, according to college officials.
In his welcome to the class, Glenn reflected on the tragic events surrounding this year’s Boston Marathon and how “every-day” heroes rose to the occasion by selflessly helping others. Glenn took a moment to recognize what he said were the college’s “own heroes.”
“Hundreds of you are graduating from helping fields such as criminal justice, health care, human services and education,” Glenn said. “These fields are more than just careers, they are a calling requiring individuals who are committed to caring for others and unafraid to help in time of crisis.”