HACC faculty surprises York graduate with associate degree

Jana Benscoter
  • Ruzhou Jenny Tang juggled work and school while attaining at 4.0 GPA.
  • Tang was surprised by HACC president and faculty, who presented her with her associate degree at her family's restaurant.

When Ruzhou "Jenny" Tang received a phone call May 24 from Marjorie Mattis, dean of academic affairs at Harrisburg Area Community College, she thought Mattis was planning to eat dinner at Number One Szechuan, her family’s Red Lion restaurant.

But the real reason Mattis called was to make sure Tang was going to be at the restaurant at 639 Lombard Road at 7 p.m. Mattis, HACC President John Sygielski and other faculty members had a surprise for the unsuspecting 20-year-old — her associate degree.

Tang, who worked the Thursday night of her graduation, had told Mattis she wasn’t going to be able to receive her latest accolade — she’s also the recipient of the Outstanding Transfer Student award and has made the dean’s list several times.

HACC administrators brought Jenny Tang's graduation to her in Red Lion. HACC/photo

Tang’s efforts to advance herself were enough for HACC officials to be compelled to drive to Red Lion to bring Tang her business administration associate degree in person.

Surprise: “I had no idea. I thought she might be coming for dinner or something. And then she asked if my parents would be there as well,” Tang said. “I just can’t believe that they did this for me. It’s really a special thing.”

Mattis said HACC has one commencement ceremony, which is held at the Giant Center in Hershey. There were 800 graduates this year, from all of HACC’s five campuses, Mattis explained. Tang, she said, was among the 100 graduates from York’s campus.

Sygielski said, “Like many students who attend HACC, Jenny was balancing the responsibilities of working and supporting her family while pursuing her associate degree. It was our privilege to honor her hard work and the 4.0 GPA that she earned in a special way.”

Tang said she plans to transfer to Penn State Harrisburg next year. In order to be considered for the Outstanding Transfer Student award, a student has to attain the highest grade-point average and have plans to transfer to another educational institution.

Jenny Tang talks to HACC President John Sygielski outside her family's restaurant in Red Lion on May 11. HACC/photo

"HACC prides itself on the way we engage with our students," Mattis said. "While working with Jenny, it was clear that her education means the world to her and her family. I knew we had to do something special to recognize her for all of her hard work. She's been a pleasure to work with, and it was a thrill for us to personally deliver her degree."

Work: Tang said she worked 40 hours a week at the restaurant, which is about five minutes from her house, in addition to attending classes, which were a 20-minute drive away.

There were times, she said, when she was ready to give up.

She leaned on Mattis when she was overwhelmed with balancing her responsibilities. During her first week in college, Tang said she cried trying to figure things out.

Despite her struggle, she said, she decided to keep going, pray with her parents and “go back to work and college” with a positive attitude.

Tang said those who showed up with her associate degree were “super nice, kind and helpful. They were always there to help.”

She said her experience working in her family’s business was partly the reason for her success. Tang’s parents don’t speak fluent English. Not only does Tang interpret for them from Chinese into English at home and at work, but she also cooks, manages and promotes the restaurant. Those skills, she said, helped her take her studies seriously.

Jenny Tang talks to her parents at Number One Szechuan in Red Lion, the night HACC President of HACC John Sygielski delivered Tang's associate degree. HACC/photo

“My parents’ expectation is pretty high, so I want to try my best,” Tang said. “I try as hard as I can. The most important thing is to be able to learn and use what you learn in the future. That’s what I’ve gained through my life experience.”

China: When Tang was 10 years old, she and her mother left their home in Fuzhou, China. They moved to New York, where her father had been living.

At that time, Tang said, she had many Chinese friends, which made it difficult for her to learn English.

“I learned nothing, literally nothing,” she said.

She said she’s grateful for having good teachers who taught her how to speak English fluently. From New York, her family moved to Red Lion. She went on to attend school in Dallastown Area School District, graduating in 2015.

Liming Chen, Tang’s 47-year-old mother, said she’s proud of her daughter. "I thank God, I thank Jesus," Chen said, that Tang can have these opportunities.

Jenny Tang, 20, was surprised by HACC President John Sygielski and faculty, who presented her with her associate degree at her family's restaurant in Red Lion on May 11. Jana Benscoter/photo