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Saipan Tribune: Dr. Kit reminisces about NMC's first year (May 22, 2018)

In her first time to return on Saipan after leaving the CNMI in 1985, Dr. Catherine “Kit” Porter Van Meter couldn’t help waxing nostalgic.

Speaking in front of 257 NMC graduates on Saturday at the Northern Marianas College’s 38th Commencement Exercise at the Marianas High School Gymnasium, Van Meter, NMC’s first president, said that NMC at that time hardly had any rooms.

Van Meter said that they used to share classrooms with high school students during the first year of NMC, which was then known as Northern Marianas Community College. “We’re just starting to move to the Nursing School back then and we just had a few rooms.

“We used rooms for our classes at the Northern Marianas High School back then. We used them at night. We also had a computer lab that high school students could also use. Look at the campus now. It has wonderful facilities.”

She helped explore the possibility of having higher education alternatives in the CNMI and coordinated the establishment of NMC, of which she became the chief executive officer in 1979 before assuming the presidency four years later.

“It was a lot of work when the CNMI officially became a commonwealth. It was a big time for change and also exciting…going from a trust territory to a commonwealth,” said Van Meter. “…We had to go to D.C. to convince people that CNMI had a college and needed help with funds and to also connect to the [mainland] to be part of the U.S. family.”

She added that NMCC back then she only had six staff and even showed off a program about the first graduation ceremony, which still looked as if it was printed today.

NMCC’s staff included Luis S. Chong (scholarship officer II), Jose C. Leon Guerrero (Teacher Training coordinator), Luis N. Limes (ABE specialist II), Susana T. Mafnas (Student Service coordinator), Abel R. Olopai (chief training officer), and Jean B. Olopai (acting director of Admissions and Records).

“Back then, we’re trying to get teachers and nurses their certification. So, they were already working and some had families. It was hard to go off island to study,” said Van Meter.

There were a total of 25 students that first graduated at NMCC back then and Van Meter lauded the current graduates in the fields of Education, Business, Accounting, Criminal Justice, Nursing, Natural Resources Management, and Liberal Arts for their accomplishments.

“As college graduates, you will be deciding when you need help reaching your goals. At the right time, advice and examples can make obtaining goals possible,” she said.

Hart was the keynote speaker in last Saturday’s graduation ceremony. She arrived last Thursday, spoke in front of 257 NMC graduates on Saturday, and visited Rota yesterday, the same island where she first taught English as a Second Language in 1967.

She left the CNMI to finish her postgraduate studies in Vermont, but was invited to return to the Commonwealth in 1975.

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