Every Student Has a Unique Story on the Road to Commencement

May 12, 2015 | More People

Broward College students who have completed their associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree or a certificate program will be honored Tuesday, May 5, at 3 p.m. during the College’s 83rdcommencement ceremony at the BB&T Center, 1 Panther Parkway, Sunrise. These students will join more than 125,000 students who have graduated from Broward College since it was established in 1959.

During the ceremony, Broward College President J. David Armstrong, Jr., will confer 2,567 associate’s degrees, 203 bachelor’s degrees and 1,728 technical certificates to students who represent more than 100 countries. The oldest graduate is 73 and the youngest is 16. There are 146 graduates over the age of 50.

The keynote address will be delivered by Donna Shalala, the current president of the University of Miami, who is stepping down to become the president and chief executive officer of the Clinton Foundation. During more than 30 years of experience as an accomplished scholar, teacher and administrator, Shalala served in the Carter administration as assistant secretary for policy development and research at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and in 1993, U.S. President Bill Clinton appointed her Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). She served for eight years — the longest term of any HHS Secretary in U.S. history.

Many graduates have inspiring student success stories to share, including:

  • David Lewkowicz, 18, a hardworking and driven student, who will graduate with a high school diploma, a 4.0 GPA and an associate of arts degree from Broward College. He has already been accepted into the United States Naval Academy.
  • A “dreamer” student, Maria Madrinan escaped with her family from the unstable political climate and terrorist threats in their native country of Colombia. Through many challenges Madrinan saw a door and a pathway leading toward a better future she realizes this Spring by earning her degree.
  • Steven and Joel Pencle, father and son, will be graduating together. Despite job loss, divorce, legal challenges, temporary displacement and a demanding academic schedule, they never gave up their educational dreams.
  • Jenna Dispenza was a competitive ice dancer and now works as a figure skating instructor. Having taken every one of her classes through Broward College Online, she now graduates with a perfect 4.0 GPA.

The ceremony will also feature a commissioning for ROTC graduate Ricardo A. Ellis, who will become an officer in the U.S. Army.


David Lewkowicz, College Academy, Associate in Arts Liberal Arts

DavidLewkowiczMany children have a habit of gazing up with wonder at the sky whenever they step outside. For 18-year-old David Lewkowicz, he never grew out of this practice. For it is there, in that immense and boundless blue space, he sees the dreams of his childhood and a future fully realized.

“Since I was a kid, I always wanted to be an astronaut, exploring the unknown corners of space and discovering faraway planets — I was just so fascinated by all of it,” said Lewkowicz. “However, it wasn’t until I started high school that my passion turned into a serious career goal.”

Lewkowicz is not a typical high school senior. Originally from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, he moved to the United States with his family at the age of 5. A hardworking and driven student, he excelled academically and had the opportunity to take advanced math and science classes at Broward College through the College Academy. On May 5, he will graduate with a high school diploma, a 4.0 GPA and an associate of arts degree from Broward College.

“This whole experience has taught me to take my education seriously, to plan effectively, set priorities, earn good grades — and not slack off,” said Lewkowicz. “When you think about it, all that being a good student really means is choosing to take responsibility for your future,”

His future looks bright. Even before graduating, Lewkowicz has already been accepted into the United States Naval Academy. Upon hearing the news of his acceptance, the Broward College Buehler Planetarium asked him to speak at the world premiere of Jonathan Bird’s documentary “Space School” held earlier this year at the planetarium. He credits this as one of the highlights of his time at the College.

Despite his busy schedule, Lewkowicz also devotes his time to the community as a YMCA leader in training and volunteers at the Life-Net Soup Kitchen. He is also a member of the Civil Air Patrol, as well as a South Florida representative for Hugh O’Brian Youth (HOBY).

After the Naval Academy, Lewkowicz plans to serve his country for eight years before pursuing a career in naval aviation, specifically, in the field of aerospace engineering. And, yes, one day, perhaps, even becoming an astronaut — not looking up longingly at the sky but rather looking from space at the blue dot that is Earth.

“Knowledge is a strong, distinctive part of who we become, and I believe all of the knowledge I have received during my time here will help me later in life with all that I hope to accomplish,” concluded Lewkowicz.


Maria Madrinan, Associate in Arts Political Science

MariaMadrinanAt first glance, Maria Madrinan’s scrapbook appears to be just that — a collection of memories or moments — but really, it is something far greater. It is an account of her accomplishments as a Dreamer student — she was brought to the United States by her parents and has attended U.S, schools for most of her life — as well as a reflection and embodiment of her special resilience, passion and perseverance in the face of adversity.

In 1998, to escape the unstable political climate and terrorist threats, Madrinan and her family fled their native country of Colombia. “Soon after my arrival here, I understood that America was my home, and I embraced this new country that took me in and offered me more opportunities than I could ever imagine.”

The Madrinan family has repeatedly been denied political asylum, which leaves Maria in a state of in-betweens — a complicated legal limbo, in which, as a foreign national she considers the United States her home, but is neither an international student nor a permanent resident.

Not wanting to let that stand in her way of pursuing a college education, Madrinan enrolled at Broward College in 2010. As an undocumented student, she was unable to receive in-state tuition or financial aid assistance, which meant that Madrinan had to work full-time and pay for her tuition and other expenses out of pocket. At one point, this financial difficulty become too much. Temporarily, she stopped taking classes and nearly gave up. But, where some would admit defeat and see an insurmountable hurdle, Madrinan saw a door and a pathway leading toward change.

Wanting to promote passage of the Florida Dream Act, which provides a path to an affordable college degree and citizenship, she got involved with Students Working for Equal Rights (SWER), a student-led, grassroots movement focusing on social justice and equal access to education. Her passion moved her to organize Broward County’s first SWER chapter.

Bright and confident, Madrinan became a vital part of Broward College. Not only did she excel academically, joining the Broward College Honors Institute and Phi Theta Kappa chapter, but she brought her interest in activism and change to Student Life program. As legislative liaison, she researched bills and polled the student population on proposed legislation, which she then shared with Broward College’s general counsel and vice president for public policy and government affairs.

“Since high school, I was interested in politics, but I didn’t really pursue it until the Dreamers movement,” said Madrinan. Madrinan started by writing letters, asking elected leaders, such as U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, for their assistance is passing the Dream Act. Mandrinan’s involvement and passion for politics eventually led her to attend three political debates, the 2010 U.S. Senate and Florida gubernatorial debates, as well as the 2014 Florida gubernatorial debate at Broward College this past fall. In April 2014, she was selected as the only student panelist at a “Supporting In-State Tuition Equality in Florida” roundtable where she sat alongside Florida State Rep. Shevrin Jones and the CEO of Hispanic Unity Josie Bacallao.

After the passage of the tuition-equality bill in Florida, Madrinan was able to increase her course load and take twice as many classes as before.

Now, she is graduating with her associate’s degree and plans to continue her studies in the field of political science, Madrinan has plans to give back to the community by researching scholarship opportunities and pursuing grant writing for Dreamer students. Her goal is to one day work with Homeland Security or the DEA to assist in stopping human, drug and weapons trafficking. Without a doubt, she will soon have many more accomplishments to fill her scrapbook.

“I’ve always tried to live my life with the idea that you have to be the change you want to see in the world,” said Madrinan. “If you don’t like something, you must do something to change it.”

Steven Pencle, Bachelor of Applied Science in Technology Management
Joel Pencle, Associate of Science in Computer Science

StevenPencleThe bond between a father and son can be incredibly intense — filled with highs and lows. This is certainly the case with Steven and Joel Pencle, who will be ending their journey at Broward College and graduating together on May 5. As they each walk across the stage to receive their degrees, it will certainly be hard to tell who is more proud.

In 1993, as an undergraduate student majoring in computer science and mathematics in Jamaica, Steven learned that his fiancé was pregnant with Joel. As their priorities shifted, sacrifices had to be made, so they decided to leave their home and settle in Miami for a better life and to be closer to family.

“After Joel was born, I assumed it would be just a few years before I resumed my studies, but then my daughter was born and those ‘few years’ turned into 17,” said Steven. “Although I would always tutor and encourage others who were in college, I had really given up hope of ever completing my degree.”

Fortunately, that dream was not abandoned permanently. In 2011, Steven decided to finish his education. With a full-time job, he opted for the convenience and adaptability of online courses at Broward College. Soon, Steven not only lost his job of 12 years but also went through a difficult divorce. For a year, Steven and Joel were forced to stay in a small front room of a relative’s apartment.JoelPencle

Despite job-related stress, legal challenges, family transition, temporary displacement and demanding academic schedule, Steven and Joel persevered and found the strength to continue on, in one another. “We were one another’s main support system during those cycles of sadness, and one of the ways that we got through each day was to find one thing to laugh at,” said Steven. “Although we mourned for our splintered family, we learned to celebrate the good times, like whenever we did well in our courses or received scholarships.”

Joel emphatically agrees with his father. “We survived by motivating each other and really pushing each other to continue on and move forward.”

Steven originally wanted to finish his studies in computer science, but after more than 20 years as a systems analyst and programmer, he decided to choose a degree that would enhance his management and leadership skills. With a Bachelor of Applied Science in Technology Management, he hopes to obtain a post-graduate degree in information technology, with a focus on math, which would allow him to teach junior level math classes. He’d also like to use his skills and experience to mentor young people with a desire to pursue a career in IT.

Similarly, Joel, who has always had a strong affinity for computers, will be following in his father’s footsteps by graduating with a degree in computer science. He has already been accepted by Florida Atlantic University and plans to work toward earning a bachelor’s degree. He hopes one day to teach.

“My philosophy has always been simple: to be a good person, to pay it forward, basically to do unto others as you would like them do unto you,” said Joel.

It is that spirit, which makes his father so proud. “I am honored to be Joel’s father because there are so many times he could have given up, but decided to press on. I’ve let him know that even without his academic progress, just the mere fact that he has a good character makes me proud to be his dad,” said Steven.


Jenna Dispenza, BC Online, Associate in Arts

Jenna Dispenza was a competitive ice dancer before “retiring” to her second career as a figure skating instructor. BC Online fits perfectly with her work schedule. Her job can keep her “on the ice” from 5 a.m. to 7 pm. leaving little time for a traditional classroom experience. She has taken all her courses through BC Online, starting in 2013, and will graduate this month with her Associate in Arts degree and a perfect 4.0 GPA. Jenna plans to continue at FIU Online studying finance.

Meet Jenna and hear her discuss her experience.

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