By Ernie Greenslade
It's a good thing John Priest of Andover listens to his mother-in-law. As a result, he now has a new career in health care he says he loves and soon will start a new job with the Boston Medical Center.
A couple of years ago, when he was exploring career options, his mother-in-law, Debbie Boettcher, an emergency room nurse and longtime resident of Andover who recently moved south, advised him to consider a career in health care.
On Saturday, May 16, he graduated with high honors and an associate degree in respiratory therapy from Northern Essex Community College. He was recently hired as a respiratory therapist at the Boston Medical Center.
"It's always busy, always changing, and there's always something to learn," said Priest, quick to credit Boettcher with providing the inspiration for his career choice.
After graduating from high school in 1998, Priest attended Southern Connecticut State University where he played baseball and majored in exercise science. He left college three semesters shy of earning his bachelor's degree and began working in the baseball industry, helping minor and major league baseball players to develop training programs and select equipment.
The work was exciting but somewhat seasonal, which led Priest to explore new options that would provide more stability.
When his mother in-law suggested health care, Priest was intrigued.
As an undergraduate, he had already taken some of the courses that were pre-requisites for entrance to health-care programs, such as anatomy and physiology, so had a head start.
After one year in the program, Priest was hired by Saints Memorial Hospital in Lowell to work with his student license.
He found he enjoyed working with his patients who were coping with a variety of respiratory conditions, such as asthma, pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
When he starts his job at Boston Medical Center, he will care for patients in the intensive care unit and the emergency room.
A college degree and new career are not the only milestones that Priest and his wife Kimberly have celebrated recently. On April 25, the couple welcomed their first child, a daughter named Taylor Rae Priest.
Methuen-raised, former Miss USA Susie Castillo was the featured speaker at Priest's May 16 commencement. Now Los Angeles-based, Castillo is an actress who recently wrote the book "Confidence is Queen: The Four Keys to Ultimate Beauty through Positive Thinking," published by Penguin Group last July.
The student speaker, Diannely Antigua of Haverhill, who graduated with a perfect 4.0 average and an associate degree in liberal arts, is now enrolled at UMass Lowell where she is majoring in English and Spanish with plans to eventually become a writer and teacher.
A highlight of the commencement ceremony was the awarding of emeritus status to five retired NECC professors and staff members.
At Northern Essex, the rank of emeritus is an honor that recognizes sustained excellence in performance, character, and meritorious service to the college.
Emeriti recipients include Priscilla Bellairs of Newburyport, professor emerita of English; Patricia McDermott of Newburyport, assistant dean emerita of developmental studies, Gerard Morin of Belmont, professor emeritus of history & computer technology, Paulette Redmond of Salem, N.H., professor emerita of mathematics, and Mary Roche of Haverhill, coordinator emerita of the reading center.
Elaine Barker of Haverhill, the owner of Paper Potpourri, received the Outstanding Alumni Award from the college's Alumni Association based on her career success and many contributions to the college and the community.