Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author H.G. ‘Buzz’ Bissinger Addresses Graduates at Community College of Philadelphia Commencement

PHILADELPHIA, May. 6, 2010 —Community College of Philadelphia will celebrate the accomplishments and diversity of its students at its 44th Annual Commencement at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, May 8 at Temple University's Liacouras Center, 1776 North Broad Street (West Montgomery Avenue and Broad Street).

Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and author H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger will address the more than 2,000 graduates who will be receiving more than 2,300 associate degrees and/or certificates at the annual ceremony.

Bissinger is the author of three highly acclaimed non-fiction books – “Friday Night Lights,” “A Prayer for the City” and “Three Nights in August.” He has worked as a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Chicago Tribune and several other prestigious newspapers. He also has written for The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair and Sports Illustrated, and was a co-producer/writer for the acclaimed television series NYPD Blue.

The College is granting the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters (L.H.D.) to A. E. Piscopo, retired chief executive officer and chief operating officer of Glenmede Trust Company, a national private wealth management advisory firm headquartered in Philadelphia. Piscopo will be stepping down as president of the Community College of Philadelphia Foundation Board on June 30. He has been on the board since 2000. Under his leadership, the Foundation launched the College’s first comprehensive capital campaign, which has to date raised more than $6 million toward its $10 million goal.

The 44th Annual Commencement also will celebrate the many accomplishments of our talented students, who reflect the diversity found at the College:


Carl Laguerre, 25, came to Philadelphia from Haiti – where fewer than 10 percent of high school graduates are able to attend college – to study Nursing at the College. A month after he arrived in Philadelphia, his dream was almost derailed by the death of his sponsor’s husband. Subsequently, his sponsor fell ill and lost one of her jobs, which further impacted Laguerre, who could not work because of his status as an international student.

“At one point, it was suggested that I go back to Haiti until I could pull together enough money for schooling,” he said. “I said, ‘Absolutely not. I came here to study Nursing and that is what I am going to do. I am not going back until I have done that.’”

Laguerre’s perseverance and intelligence so impressed advisors and administrators at the College that he was granted a $1,000 College Foundation scholarship, which was good for two years, plus emergency relief grants to help pay for his books. The money was enough to allow him to continue his studies at the College.

 Earlier this year, after an earthquake virtually destroyed the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, Laguerre spearheaded a campus fundraising effort that collected about $1,850 for Haitian relief. Although an estimated 230,000 people died as a result of the earthquake, Laguerre’s mother and four brothers and sisters, who are still living in Haiti, survived.

Laguerre has been active in campus activities. He was a student ambassador, a member of the College’s Rho Upsilon chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa national honor society, and president of the Francophone Club. He received one of the College’s two Dean’s leadership awards for outstanding service as a student leader.

Adam Chambers, 22, of Colchester, England is an international student. He is graduating with a 4.0 grade point average from the College’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management program and is the recipient of a $17,000 scholarship to attend Drexel University in the fall. Chambers came to the United States after graduating from the Culinary Arts program at Colchester Institute in his hometown.

Chambers served an internship in the kitchens at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle while attending Colchester. His talent and experience won him a job offer from the nationally acclaimed Inn at Easton, in Easton, Md. Shortly after starting as a sous chef in Easton, Chambers met a Jefferson University student working a summer job on the Maryland shore. The following year, Chambers changed his work visa to a student visa and followed his new girlfriend to Philadelphia. Luckily, the move jibed with his desire to continue his education and earn a degree that would take him beyond the kitchen.

 “I looked at a number of colleges and universities but Community College of Philadelphia definitely made the most sense for me fiscally,” Chambers said.

He admits to some trepidation when he first started classes. “I was incredibly apprehensive about attending a community college because of the negative stigma,” Chambers said. “But once I got here and saw the opportunities that were available to become involved and how helpful everyone was, I knew I had made a good choice.”

Chambers, who is receiving an associate’s degree in Hotel Management, was active in student life, joining the Rho Upsilon chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa national honor society, becoming president of the International Student Club, and serving as one of the College’s student ambassadors.

“My experience here has helped me define my goals,” Chambers said. He plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management with a minor in Business Administration at Drexel University. His scholarship is renewable, if he remains a full-time student with a grade point average of 3.0 or higher.

Shameka Sawyer, 32, of West Mount Airy is graduating with honors from the College with a major in Communications. With the help of an All-Pennsylvania scholarship, Sawyer plans to transfer to West Chester University of Pennsylvania, where she intends to earn a bachelor’s degree. Her goal is to become a public relations professional and own her own public relations firm in Philadelphia. She has a 3.91 grade point average and was selected as a 2010 Coca-Cola Gold Scholar in a national competition sponsored by the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation and administered by the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. 

Sawyer’s personal responsibilities make her academic achievements especially impressive. She is a single parent with three children, ranging in age from two to 16 years old. She went to work right after graduating from high school. At the age of 30, she was working as an administrative assistant and feared being laid off. That is when she decided to pursue a College degree and expand her career opportunities. Sawyer chose Community College of Philadelphia for its affordability, diverse student body and flexible hours. “Here is a better option for me as an adult,” she said. “I knew that here I could get a fresh start and feel more comfortable than I would be at a university.”

Somehow, this busy student and mom also found time to serve as president of the College’s Rho Upsilon chapter of Phi Theta Kappa. She said she wants to serve as a role model for her children, especially her oldest son. “That is one reason I decided to come back to college, because I wanted to be the message not just preach it,” she said. “I wanted to show them that they can do it and that they don’t have to settle for less.”

Fraidel Phelps, 34, of Northeast Philadelphia was the second of two All-Pennsylvania scholarship winners this year from the College. Phelps also was a national finalist in the 2010 Coca-Cola All-State Community College Academic Team program. She is an Education major and like Shameka Sawyer received a full scholarship through the All-Pennsylvania program. She plans to transfer from the College to West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

Phelps maintained a perfect 4.0 grade point average while staying on top of her responsibilities as a wife and mother of six children. Her goal is to teach at the elementary school level. Before coming to the College, Phelps’ only postsecondary education was at a teachers’ seminary in New York State. The seminary prepared her to teach in privately run Jewish religious schools, but not in public schools, Phelps said.

She is a champion at multi-tasking. As an aspiring teacher, she must spend 20 hours a week in the field doing classroom observation. She does her field work and her volunteer tutoring at Politz Hebrew Academy, which serves nursery school through eighth grade children. Five of her children attend Politz. The sixth child, a two-year-old, goes to a babysitter.

“My kids are thrilled because they see me several times a day,” said Phelps, who took all of her classes at the College’s Northeast Regional Center in Northeast Philadelphia.