Northern Vermont University gears up for first graduation

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JOHNSON, Vt. (WCAX) It's graduation season and Northern Vermont University is planning for its first graduation since merging two state college campuses.

Until last year, there were five distinct schools in the Vermont State College system: Lyndon State College, Johnson State College, Vermont Technical College in Randolph, Castleton University in Castleton and the Vermont Community College, which has 12 campuses statewide and is headquartered in Montpelier.

As of last fall, Johnson State and Lyndon State officially merged to become Northern Vermont University. And both of those campuses are having their first NVU graduation this weekend.

Students are excited for a few reasons. One, Cyndi Lauper is giving the commencement address at NVU Johnson Saturday. Two, they're part of history-- the first graduating class of the new NVU. And it's a new beginning for them.

Our Ike Bendavid looks at what's next for the school and the grads.

Just hours before graduation, students on the Lyndon campus and the Johnson campus are ready to graduate as a part of the first class of Northern Vermont University.

"Feeling really good," said Anthony Carpino, a senior at the Lyndon campus.

"Exhausted but excited," said Elizabeth Stoddard, a senior at the Lyndon campus.

"I'm a little nervous," said Jessica Derosa, a senior at the Johnson campus.

"I feel awesome," said Jessica Malskis, a senior at the Johnson campus.

"It's definitely going to be a cool thing to be a part of as far as a historic thing being the first class to graduate as NVU, Carpino said.

"I think having a university on my diploma transcript will look a little better than just like a college, not that it's been any different being around here, it's been no different on campus," Derosa said.

"This class came in as Lyndon State College or Johnson State College, but they are now leaving NVU," said Elaine Collins, the president of NVU.

Johnson State College and Lyndon State College officially merged last year. On their own, each was suffering from declining enrollment and increasing deficits. School officials tell WCAX News the merger saved $3 million. Vacant positions weren't filled and two people were laid off.

As for enrollment, it was up this year and Collins says the combined campuses are enjoying a record number of applicants. Some 3,360 prospective students applied for a spot in the fall-- a 46-percent increase.

"We are on top of it and I believe that we will be here for the next century," Collins said.

Some graduating students said they are sad they won't get the full NVU experience.

"If anything, I'm a little angry I am graduating now," Stoddard said, "because there are a lot of opportunities that are starting now that we are NVU."

"I won't be a part of a lot of the big changes that come but I do know just merging with another campus there is just a lot more opportunity," Malskis said.

Showing off the new NVU medallion that will she will wear at two commencement ceremonies this weekend, President Elaine Collins says students are leaving the university prepared for the real world.

"It's all about the educational experience that they received here; that educational experience has been enormously positive," she said.

And these students are leaving campus ready for the next chapter in their stories.