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‘I always strived to succeed:’ Urban College of Boston grads receive hard-won diplomas Sunday

Luz Taborda acknowledged the applause as she walked across the stage at the Paramount Theatre during Urban College of Boston's commencement Sunday.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Marching along Washington Street Sunday to the sound of bagpipes and cheers from hundreds, graduates of the Urban College of Boston streamed into the Paramount Theatre Sunday to receive their hard-earned academic citations.

The nonprofit college — where many students work full time while in school — awarded certificates and associate degrees to about 80 graduates during the commencement, the first to be held in person since the pandemic began in 2020.

Among the graduates was Shalea Berryhill, 35, a Boston resident who works as a substitute teacher at the Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers high school.

“I always strived to succeed with education,” she said. “I’ve always done this. Probably God placed it in my spirit, in my soul, to want to achieve.”


Michael Taylor, who has led the college as its president for a decade, said its students have an “unyielding commitment” to their families and their community.

Most of the college’s roughly 1,000 students are women, and are on average in their late 30s. More than 70 percent of students speak English as a second language.

They are dedicated to their studies, he said in an interview before the ceremony — it takes an average of four to six years to complete an associate’s degree at the college.

Taylor retires later this month. For him, this commencement is particularly special: it will be his last while serving as the institution’s leader.

“I’m really happy that it is live, that we will be able to celebrate with the students [as] a community,” Taylor said. “That’s important to them as much as it is to me.”

Bagpiper Matthew Phelps lead the faculty, staff, guests and graduates from 2 Boylston Street to the theater.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

On Sunday, as the graduates filed onto the stage, an audience member released two congratulatory balloons to the ceiling.

Taylor, in his commencement speech, referenced national youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb” and encouraged graduates to use the skills they gained in school to change their community.


“You were bold enough to see that light, and that light took you to Urban College,” Taylor said. “Now I’m asking you to be brave enough to be the light for others.”

Dr. Charles Anderson, president and CEO of The Dimock Center, gave Sunday’s commencement address, telling the graduates that what they do with their degrees matters more than the paper itself.

“Tap into your superpowers that brought those degrees, and turn that power into light,” Anderson said. “Go out there and allow the world to witness your power.”

Shalea Berryhill posed for a photo with president Michael Taylor, right, and honorary degree recipient and commencement speaker Dr. Charles Anderson, president and CEO of The Dimock Center. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Among the students honored was Luz Taborda, 35, of Revere, who received the John and Mary Walsh Scholarship, which recognizes a graduating Urban College student who “selflessly serves their community,” according to the college.

The award is named in honor of the parents of Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh, who previously served as Boston’s mayor.

“Being a family child care provider, I discovered my calling is to advocate for families in the community,” Taborda said. “It’s very important to me to serve others.”

Taborda, who earned her associate’s degree in early childhood education Sunday, arrived in the United States about a decade ago from Colombia with her husband, the couple’s daughter, and her sister and brother-in-law, she said during an interview before the graduation.

She worked for years in several jobs before opening her own child care business in Revere, and along the way joined the East Boston Family Engagement Network as a volunteer. She and her family also launched a youth soccer program to help keep children active and support their well-being during the pandemic.


She dreamed of becoming a teacher when she was a child. Inspired by her sister — an English-as-a-second-language educator — and her mother’s encouragement, she enrolled at Urban College in 2016.

Taborda worked throughout her time in college, and stepped away temporarily when she was pregnant with her son about four years ago.

With her associate’s degree program completed, she said she’ll continue pursuing her education. She said she plans on earning a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and ultimately a master’s degree in higher education administration.

One day, she would like to open a child care center and train teachers herself, she said.

During her commencement speech Sunday, Taborda said the college allowed her to move closer toward achieving her goals of becoming an educator and starting a child care program.

“Their knowledge made me a better mom, a better teacher, and a better person,” Taborda said. “This has been the most worthwhile experience in my life.”

Cathline Ancion, 33, of Boston, also received her associate’s degree in early children education. As a little girl, Ancion had been inspired by her mother’s work as an educator in Roxbury.

As she grew up, her life unfolded in a different direction and she became a certified nursing assistant. But her dream of becoming a preschool or kindergarten teacher hadn’t faded, she said in an interview before the commencement.


She began taking part-time classes at Urban College around 2015 following a “heart-to-heart” conversation with her mother.

" ‘Do you want to switch back to your number one dream?’ " Ancion recalled her mother asking her. “I told her, ‘Let’s go for it.’ "

And she is not wasting any time. She starts classes at Cambridge College Monday, she said.

Berryhill, who enrolled in college in 2014, worked several jobs during those years. It was often challenging, she said, and she had to take some time off to address mental health issues.

On Sunday, Berryhill received her certificate of achievement in case management and expects to earn an associate’s degree in human service administration.

In the fall, she will be attending Lesley University to start on a bachelor’s degree in human services, she said before Sunday’s commencement.

At the Kennedy school, her students often ask questions about her college experience, she said. They’ll ask what it is like, or why she takes on the extra work.

“There’s a lot that goes with being a substitute teacher,” she said. “I’m paving the way for the next generation... for people who didn’t think they could do it, but could.”

Mayrene Morillo Segura made a little dance move as she crosses the stage to get her Certificate of Achievement Sunday.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com. Tiana Woodard is a Report for America corps member covering Black neighborhoods. She can be reached at tiana.woodard@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @tianarochon.