Provided Photo by Josh Larkin / CCV
Collette Paro, left, will graduate Saturday from Community College of Vermont. She is a veteran of the U.S. Navy. At right is Kyle Aines, student resource adviser for veterans at the college.
BARRE — Collette Paro will be among the 687 graduates of the Community College of Vermont to step up and accept her diploma Saturday at Norwich University’s Shapiro Field House.
For Paro, 31, of Belmont, going back to school was made possible by her four years of service in the U.S. Navy. She said the post 9/11 GI Bill extended college benefits for veterans, and she is grateful for the opportunity to earn her degree.
“I was always one of those kids who wanted to go to college, but my parents just didn’t have the money,” said Paro, who grew up in the western Massachusetts community of Belchertown — right in the midst of the “five colleges” district that includes Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges as well as the University of Massachusetts. All five, she thought, were out of her reach.
Paro’s journey included some difficulties early in high school, but after graduating with honors she decided to join the Navy. Her first duty station was in Iceland, where she spent 18 months. She served the rest of her enlistment on a destroyer based in Norfolk, Virginia, before traveling the country and returning to Massachusetts.
She moved to Vermont soon after and worked for a teen shelter for nearly five years. Working with homeless teens, mostly girls, Paro found inspiration for further education. So in 2012 she enrolled at CCV.
“CCV has been amazing,” said Paro. “I walked in the door on a Thursday or Friday, and the semester had started on that Monday.”
She said she met her adviser and told her she wanted to sign up for the semester that had already begun. Because she is a veteran, Paro’s application fee was waived and the adviser, Ginger Gellman, helped fast-track the paperwork to make it happen.
“I didn’t know what kind of a leap of faith I was taking to do this,” recalled Paro. “I don’t work right now,” while the GI Bill is allowing her to pursue her dream. “I qualified for it. It was really, really amazing that I was able to do it.”
Paro will receive an associate degree in liberal arts Saturday and is studying for her bachelor’s in psychology through Johnson State College’s External Degree Program. Paro is taking a number of courses in addiction studies and substance abuse prevention, saying, “That’s definitely a field where I think I can be helpful and it’s important.”
What does walking to the stage for commencement mean?
“It means that I’ve accomplished something that I never thought that I could. ... I don’t think I could have gone to college right out of high school — I needed to learn me and I needed to learn the world before I was ready for this … and I’m a sponge now. I’m an adult learner to the max.”
Paro’s not the only veteran looking forward to receiving a diploma at Saturday’s CCV ceremonies. Another is her comrade in arms — and academia — Fred Zeno, of Worcester.
This is the second consecutive year that CCV will graduate a record high number of students. Of the 687 graduates, 587 are from Vermont. The graduates come from 15 countries and range in age from 17 to 67.
The two youngest are Nick Stroutsos, of Montpelier, and Zoe Riell, of Poultney. They completed their studies in CCV’s Dual Enrollment Program, earning their college credits while still in high school.
Gov. Peter Shumlin is set to congratulate the graduates with CCV President Joyce Judy and Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Tim Donovan. Stuart Comstock-Gay, president and CEO of the Vermont Community Foundation, will deliver the commencement address.
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