By Barbara Tetreault
BERLIN — A 2000 graduate of White Mountains Community College, former American Culinary Federation Chef of the Year Timothy Prefontaine traveled here from Fort Worth, Texas to offer some advice to this year’s graduating class at Friday’s commencement exercises.
While friends and family members looked on, the college bestowed degrees and certificates on 178 graduates in an outdoor ceremony on a beautiful spring night.
Prefontaine told the graduates to work hard, look for opportunities to learn and advance, be willing to take a chance, and be humble.
“You can’t let anyone get in the way of your dreams,” he said.
Prefontaine recounted that he initially was not excited to move to Houston, Texas, when offered a position at the River Oaks Country Club, considered one of the premier private country clubs in the country.
But he took the position and made sure he showed up early for work every day and soaked up knowledge about his craft from other chefs.
“I wanted it bad,” he said. “I was so hungry to succeed.”
Prefontaine said he began competing in culinary competitions in his free time and eventually made the ACF Culinary U.S. Regional team. He won two gold medals at the Culinary World Cup in 2011. He is currently executive chef at the Fort Worth Club.
Prefontaine started working in the restaurant business as a teen and received his associate degree from WMCC while apprenticing at the Balsams Grand Resort. He spent two years as a sous chef at the Balsams and instructor for the apprentices.
In welcoming remarks, WMCC President Matthew Wood called the WMCC community strong and unbelievably resilient and urged the students to be proud to graduate from a college that treasures a sense of community.
“When you earn a degree from White Mountains Community College, you will always be part of our community,” he said.
In congratulatory remarks, Gov. Maggie Hassan also touched on the importance of community and urged the graduates to invest in both themselves and their community. “Everyone counts,” she said, noting that a citizen democracy depends on the leadership and shared success of all to build a better future.
“Your studies here at White Mountains Community College have opened the door to many opportunities for you to pursue in the region and throughout the state.
“My path to this moment has been long and unusual,” said Student Senate President Vincere CouerDeLumiere.
He said he came close to flunking out of high school at one point and then took a long time to figure out a career. He took a journey west and meditated and decided to pursue a career I engineering. But math was a barrier and he went to N.H. Vocational Rehabilitation for help finding a trade that would help him achieve his goal. CouerDeLumiere graduated last year with a certificate in mobile equipment technology and this year got his advanced welding technology certificate. In the near future, he hopes to be able to hire a math tutor to help him pursue his engineering goal.
Kaylie Lapointe, president of Phi Theta Kappa, moved to this area three years ago from Jackonsville, Fla. One of her first observations, she said, was everybody knew each other and people were always willing to lend a hand. Lapointe said she decided she wanted to be part of this community and make a positive impact on those around her. She has been able to do that through her involvement with the honor society and spoke about some of the projects the organization has funded locally.
Lapointe encouraged her fellow graduates to have an impact in their community. She ended with a quote from John Kennedy, “One person can make a difference and everyone should try.”
Speaker Ben Waterman, the student representative from the Littleton Academic Center, also spoke about his educational journey, noting he is not “naturally academically talented.” He dropped out of high school and got his GED. Eighteen years later, he realized did not want to work at the kinds of jobs he could get with his educational level. With the encouragement of his wife, he enrolled at WMCC and graduated in 2013 with an associate degree in liberal arts and this year with a degree in the medical assistant program.
Wood presented the President’s Award for the highest cumulative grade point average to Morgan Bouchard.
The chancellor’s award for teaching excellence went to welding instructor Michael Pike and the service excellence award went to receptionist Terry Lavigne. A special award was given to Professor Jeff Schall who is retiring after about 30 years at the college.
After the speeches and presentations, the graduates were awarded their diplomas and certificates and the 49th commencement exercises were complete.