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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Nashua’s Daniel Webster College graduates last members of flight operations program

NASHUA – It was a familiar scene for a college graduation: a group of students invited to the stage for some special recognition.

But the recognition offered at Daniel Webster College on Saturday was nothing ordinary. The moment, part of the college’s 47th commencement ceremony, honored the last graduates of the school’s flight operations program. ...

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NASHUA – It was a familiar scene for a college graduation: a group of students invited to the stage for some special recognition.

But the recognition offered at Daniel Webster College on Saturday was nothing ordinary. The moment, part of the college’s 47th commencement ceremony, honored the last graduates of the school’s flight operations program.

“Today marks the end of a very extraordinary era,” college President Michael Diffily said in his address to students and families gathered on the college’s soccer field. “You will always be the last Daniel Webster College fliers.”

Daniel Webster has long been known for its science and technology programs. Located adjacent to the Nashua Municipal Airport, those programs have traditionally been focused on aviation, from air traffic control and flight operations to aeronautical engineering.

But after the college was sold to ITT Educational Services in 2009, it dropped its flight program, which typically enrolled 150-200 students each year.

On Saturday, the last five students in that program, who were allowed to finish their degrees after the program was cut, graduated from the college, along with 132 other students.

And while it marks a significant shift in the institution’s history, Diffily said the legacy of that program, and its many graduates, will always be an important part of Daniel Webster College and its student body.

Many of the graduates Saturday had some tie to the program, and said their experience at the college has prepared them well for the years ahead.

Eric Mulford, of Canton, Mass., graduated with a degree in air traffic management. He and his friend Sean Steadman, of Woburn, Mass., were enrolled in the flight operations program for part of their time at the college.

“I saw the program description, and it was something I just couldn’t pass up,” said Steadman, who moved on to graduate with a degree in game design and development.

And while neither student continued with flight training, they said it’s strange to know that after commencement, there are no more flight students at the college.

Valedictorian Emily Webber had her own ties to the flight program.

She graduated with a degree in air traffic management, and said she’ll always remember how the faculty and staff helped guide her and her classmates toward their futures.

“We’re a diverse group, and we came here for different reasons,” Webber told her classmates Saturday. “But even as different as we are, we became a community.”

Webber came to the college in 2009 from Danville, Pa., beginning her years at the school with the flight operations program.

Like Mulford, she eventually entered the air traffic management program instead, and earned a minor in homeland security, taking flying lessons on the side.

She challenged her fellow graduates to take what they had learned at Daniel Webster – determination, courage and creativity – and use it to follow their dreams.

Former Gov. John Lynch shared similar thoughts for the graduates.

As commencement speaker and recipient of an honorary degree, Lynch shared stories of his experience in the private and public sectors, discussing his time as CEO of a large private company and his time in politics.

And he told students that while college graduation can spark concerns about finding the right job and questions about the future, there is no reason to worry.

“What you do for your first job almost doesn’t matter,” Lynch said. “Get yourself in a position to try new things and meet new people.

“Relax and enjoy this day. This is just the first rung of a ladder in what I’m sure will be an exciting professional career.”

Salutatorian Kaylea Parkin, a sports management major from Red Hook, N.Y., had a similar message for her classmates, urging them to follow the advice her parents always gave her: to dream big and believe that they can do whatever they put their minds to.

“We’ve finally made it,” she said. “We’re ready to take on the world, and we all have a choice: to be a passive victim of circumstance or to be an active hero in our own lives.”

The college, too, is ready to take on a new chapter. While its flight operations program may be officially over, three new majors are available: health management, accounting and construction management.

“Now we can only roll forward toward a new chapter that I hope is as long as the last one,” Diffily said.

Danielle Curtis can be reached at 594-6557 or dcurtis@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Curtis
on Twitter (Telegraph_DC).