HAVERHILL — Under a big tent nestled into the hills of Northern Essex Community College's Haverhill campus quadrangle, more than 1,000 people received associate's degrees and certifications Saturday.
Student speaker Daniela Chavez-Hernandez spoke of the road she took to get her degree in early childhood education — a road that started in Mexico.
When she started her academic career in America, she was an undocumented student.
Chavez-Hernandez referred to last year's election, when then-candidate Donald Trump referred to her community as "rapists and criminals".
"I am Mexican, and I am not a criminal," she said. "What I am is a pre-school teacher. I work in Lawrence with under-represented families, while I was a full time student. I am also the mother of a two year old, Brianna."
Chavez-Hernandez extended the sense of accomplishment she felt to her fellow graduates.
"We are a living testament that these stereotypes and generalizations are incorrect," she said. "This achievement represents an opportunity to create meaningful change."
Northern Essex Community College president Lane Glenn presented an honorary degree to Terry Stubbs, founder and CEO of ActivMed Practices, a clinical research trial company, for her dedication to the college she received medical certificates from.
"When Terry realized there was a shortage of people with the skills needed for careers in the clinical research field, she turned to Northern Essex, her alma mater, and invited the college to develop a program in partnership with her," said Glenn.
The Clinical Research Coordinator advanced certificate program is currently recruiting students for the fall semester.
While many NECC students, like Chavez-Hernandez, hail from far away places, the commencement speaker was something of a home-grown celebrity.
Chief meteorologist for NBC Boston, Matt Noyes grew up in Haverhill, but said his road to success was a "winding hilly road lined with potholes."
"My post-college story included gaining 60 pounds, a failed marriage by 32, moving back in with my mom, getting 3 hours of sleep a night to be the parents I needed to be, and falling tens of thousands of dollars into debt," said Noyes.
But Noyes said every story has more than one side.
"I lost 60 pounds, then ran the Boston Marathon and raised $14,000 for kids with liver disease. I have an amazing son, met the woman of my dreams, found financial stability, own a house in my hometown of Haverhill, and I cherish every single day," he said.
Noyes shared some cautionary tales on his own winding road. Like the time he felt the wheels of his Ford Bronco slipping during a snowstorm, so he jerked the wheel to test his four wheel drive, and flipped the truck over a guardrail. He crawled out of one of the busted windows, and was later charged with damaging state property.
The moral of the story: "you have what you need. You'll slip sometimes, but it's okay, don't test the four-wheel-drive in a storm."