Branche, a 65-year-old grandmother realized a long sought after goal as she accepted her degree. She first entered HACC in the late 1960s. Although committed to seeing things through, she was forced to put school on hold to provide for her two small children after her husband left.
During the years that followed she continued her pursuit of education, taking classes in writing and psychology, even completing a real estate course. But, it wasn't until the new millennium approached that Branche headed back to HACC.
"It all started when I went to HACC to learn how to use the computer," she admitted. "While there, I started looking around at the bulletin boards [and learned more about the courses offered]."
Having raised her children and come to the realization that it was time for her to do something she enjoyed, Branche officially enrolled in HACC's culinary arts program. But, once again, fate would impact her plans.
"I was injured while working at my job and, as a result, was in therapy and walking with a cane," she remembered, adding that she was forced to withdraw from classes in the middle of the semester due to the pain. "I was heartbroken. This was my love. I wanted to be a chef."
With her professor's guidance, Branche decided to return to school the following semester when she was stronger and put her focus on hotel and restaurant management. Although she eventually completed her senior seminar and earned her certification, Branche was not finished. She continued her studies, and finally received an associate degree in culinary arts and hotel and restaurant management, as well as a diploma in catering.
It was her can-do attitude and sheer determination that got Branche to this turning point in her life. A can-do attitude, she says, she attributes to the discipline of both her maternal and paternal grandmothers, and a strong faith in God.
"You can't stop. It doesn't matter [what the challenge is]," says Branche, the oldest of eight children and the first to graduate from college. "You have to look above your circumstances and look more at the solution or goal you are trying to reach in spite of whatever it is [that gets in the way]."
Branche credits HACC and its instructors for helping her accomplish what she sees as a gift.
"I feel blessed to go to a great school with dedicated teachers who will go the extra mile to see that you accomplish your goals," she said. "They guided me firmly, but gently. I have nothing but accolades for them."
Delivering a similar message of overcoming obstacles will be commencement speaker Dwayne Golden. Golden was recently honored as one of HACC's 40 outstanding alumni over the past 40 years. Despite facing many educational and health challenges, he went on to earn a bachelor's degree and a master's of business administration before starting his own firm, D. Golden & Associates. A Harrisburg resident, Golden also is actively involved in the central Pennsylvania community.