Harper College President Dr. Avis Proctor, left, asked everyone at the 55th annual Commencement Ceremony to turn on their cell phone flashlights. She said, “Graduates, you have been a shining light for your families. Now as a Harper alum, you will be a beacon of hope for your communities."
Harper College celebrated the Class of 2023 at its 55th annual Commencement Ceremony on May 19.
About 675 students gathered on the floor of the NOW Arena in Hoffman Estates, the first time Harper has held Commencement at the venue.
Serving as Commencement speaker was Dr. Timothy Killeen, the 20th president of the University of Illinois System. Since taking office in 2015, Dr. Killeen has helped lead a surge of growth across the state’s flagship university system, which includes universities in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield.
Dr. Killeen, who referred to himself as an “incurable optimist,” credited Harper graduates’ courage, tenacity and grit. Among his messages was for graduates to not be discouraged by a world full of negative headlines, but rather lend a hand, become engaged and be allies to those who need support.
“In this world, you can turn the tide. You are the antidote to all this, with your Harper-trained eyes, your Harper listening skills and your Harper knowledge. You can – no, you will – make a huge, positive difference,” Dr. Killeen said.
Dr. Killeen also urged graduates to be lifelong learners.
The quintessential lifelong learner just may be 99-year-old Bernie Bluestein, who was recognized at Friday’s Commencement ceremony with an Honorary Degree of Associate in Arts.
Bernie has been taking art classes at Harper for over 30 years. A local treasure and national hero, Bernie served in a World War II deception unit known as the Ghost Army, which employed tactics such as inflatable tanks, sound effects, radio trickery and impersonation to deceive the enemy about the strength and location of American troops.
In 2022, Bernie and other members of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, which is Congress’s highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions.
“He is a Congressional Gold Medal recipient, a defender of democracy, a role model to us at Harper, and an inspiration to anyone pursuing dreams at any age,” said Dr. Avis Proctor, president of Harper College.
In her remarks, Dr. Proctor also highlighted the Engineering Pathways program, which provides an opportunity for qualifying students at Harper to gain guaranteed admission to the highly competitive, top-ranked Grainger College of Engineering at UIUC.
Among Harper’s Engineering Pathways graduates was Emily Alvia, whose longtime affiliation with the college began as a 3-year-old at the Early Childhood Laboratory School. The Rolling Meadows resident later attended InZone summer camp, which exposed her to Harper’s classrooms and labs and helped grow her love of STEM.
Now, the mechanical engineering major will transfer to U of I and aspires to work in the space and aeronautics industry, where she hopes to make products safer and more efficient. Emily has also been recognized for her work with the Women in Science and Engineering club at Harper and the National Science Foundation for a study in which students are working to remove barriers for those who are underrepresented in STEM fields.
“Emily and Bernie, like all of you, are part of the fabric that make up our vibrant, diverse and resilient community,” Dr. Proctor said.
In total, Harper awarded nearly 4,000 degrees and certificates in the 2022-23 academic year. Among the class were 187 Promise Scholars, 45 apprentices and Harper's first student to graduate with a Distinction in Social Justice Studies, Ada Velazquez, who leveraged her volunteer work at the Schaumburg Trickster Center toward an analysis of the loss of Native American heritage and its effects on mental health.
During her address to graduates, Dr. Proctor asked everyone to turn on their cell phone flashlights as the arena lights were dimmed.
“Graduates, you have been a shining light for your families. Now as a Harper alum, you will be a beacon of hope for your communities,” she said.