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are May and December which are also
final-exam times."
His interest in returning to school began
after his wife, Wendy, started a program at
Harvard University's Graduate School of
Education. "I became very envious of how
excited and enthralled she was by going to
school again," Valentine said. "In high
school, I wasn't much of an academic
student. I was a get-through student. But
after she graduated, I began to look at
educational possibilities for myself."
A nomadic upbringing contributed to
Valentine's previous lack of enthusiasm for
school. He was born in Philadelphia, but
his parents were business executives who
moved frequently for their jobs. Growing
up, he lived in three countries and seven
states, and attended five high schools in
four years. "It was not a pleasurable
experience," he said. "I didn't realize the
gift of education and what it can give you:
the enlightenment of learning, and
meeting new people."
His college experience has completely
changed his perception of himself as a
student. "When I first started here, I was
hoping to be a `C' student that was my
goal," said Valentine, who is enrolled in
MCC's Liberal Arts & Sciences Program.
"But at mid-term of my first semester, I had
all `A's and I started to believe that I could
do this." Valentine credits his teachers
particularly Math Professor Carol Henry,
Behavioral Science Professor Michael
Rodman, History Professor John Johnian
and English Instructor Carolyn Karp with
encouraging and pushing him to succeed in
his schoolwork. "Today, when I see these
professors on campus, it's as if I'm seeing
life-long friends."
Valentine says that Middlesex has changed
his life in other ways, as well. "I'm a quiet
person, and sometimes in my personal life
I'd rather just be in the background. But at
school, another persona comes out. In class,
I'm very outgoing, willing to express my
views and engage others. I have more self-
confidence, and want to be part of the
Valentine's personal transformation now
extends beyond the classroom, as he is
involved with several organizations on
campus that focus on developing leadership
skills. He is currently president of MCC's
Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) chapter, the
national honor society of two-year colleges.
"It celebrates academic achievement,"
explained Valentine, "and encourages
community college students to reach for
the highest aspirations through leadership
training and scholarship."
Valentine says that many of his long-time
friends who never regarded him in an
academic light find it hard to believe he
is leading PTK. "They weren't really sure
what I was doing when I said that I was
going back to school. But through my
enthusiasm and success, they've become my
strongest supporters, along with my wife
and family."
In addition to PTK, Valentine is a member
of the Paul H. Sullivan Leadership
Institute, which prepares students for
leadership roles in the workplace through
workshops, summits and special events.
"I've learned that you need many skills to
become a leader," he said, "and to be able
to influence and lead individuals you must
have the confidence and the skill to
convince people to follow you. I think that
I've always had these traits, having led as
many as 12 people in a kitchen."
MCC's administration recently
acknowledged Valentine's achievements by
nominating him for USA TODAY's All-
USA Community College Academic Team,
which gives state and national recognition
to outstanding students. "I am so honored,"
he said, "and it would be beyond my dreams
if I won."
Valentine has reached out to other
Middlesex students who need help and
encouragement to do well in their studies
by joining the Peer Mentor Program. His
role is to be a liaison between students and
faculty in the Learning Community
"Power: Who has it? Who gets it?" He says
that peer mentoring has been his most
rewarding activity at MCC. "I think it is
especially important for the students who
may not pass their classes, to help and
convince them that they can be successful
at school."
After he graduates in May with an associate
degree, Valentine plans to continue his
studies right through to graduate school,
pursuing a career in higher education.
"Deep in my heart, I always knew I wanted
to be a teacher," he said. "Most of the
people who worked in my restaurant were
from El Salvador, and I had to teach them
English and how to cook, which I really
enjoyed." However, Valentine is now
beginning to lean toward working in
administration, instead of teaching,
although he won't close himself off to any
potential opportunities to help future
He does know that he wants to pass on to
others the help and support he has received
from his many mentors at Middlesex. "I
have so much appreciation for the faculty
and staff," he said, "and their commitment
to all of the students here. I am so proud of
this school."
As to his role as Chef Valentine? "That
chapter in my life is done," he said. "I
would rather just cook dinner at home."
Amy Magin Wong
William Chemelli, Chairman of the MCC Board of
Trustees (left), with Phi Theta Kappa President Mark
Valentine at the national honor society's recent
induction ceremony.
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