A day marked by ritual and ceremony, Mendocino College bid a fond farewell to graduating students at its 49th Commencement on Friday, May 20. It was the first in-person ceremony since 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic; therefore graduates from 2020, 2021, and 2022 were all invited to participate.
In his opening remarks, Superintendent/President Tim Karas reminded the graduates, “Education is the great equalizer in this country. You can contribute to that goal. Use all your knowledge, skills, and experience to build communities, shine a light on inequities, and encourage others to join us. Embrace your journey. You can do anything.”
During the ceremony, two students spoke to their fellow graduates. Graduate Rachel Nichole Klena, who received an Associate's Degree in Human Services Paraprofessional, spoke about her success despite the multiple challenges and obstacles throughout her educational journey. “Up until I walked onto this path of higher education, I lived a life of “somedays,” “used to’s” and “what-ifs,”” said Klena in her speech. “Yes, I had survived, and yes, my children (woohoo, I love and thank you guys, I thank my wonderful family, [my kids, grandkids, partner, and dear friends] for their support) and they also are finding their paths now, but before school, I never had a journey to adhere to, a mission of my own. I had... just only... survived.”
Student-athlete Josue Ismael Jaquez Cigarroa, a Mexican immigrant in DACA, delivered his speech in both English and Spanish. Cigarroa received an Associate’s Degree in Business and hopes to begin working and helping those who require translation in the court system. In addition to thanking the Mendocino College staff, faculty and programs, Cigarroa said, “My greatest appreciation goes to the baseball program and the athletic department. Thanks to my coaches Brett Ringer, Matt Gordon, Connor Franz, Jeff Truett and Sonny Garza, I was able to play the sport I love for a few years after high school was over. To my baseball teammates that I have been with in these past years. You are not just teammates, you are family.”
Before conferring degrees and certificates to the 219 students in attendance, guest speaker, Lake County's Poet Laureate for 2020-2024, a Fellow with the Academy of American Poets, and Mendocino College alumni, Georgina Marie Guardado wished the graduates with a final farewell. Guardado also read one of her award-winning poems, Poem for Learning.
“As a graduate of Mendocino College in 2009, it was an incredible experience to return to the college as the 2022 Commencement Guest Speaker,” said Guardado. “It was an honor to walk with the Board of Trustees as we led the large graduating class onto the ceremony field. The experience allowed me to reflect on how far I have come in my own journey as an individual and as a learner. I was especially moved by student speeches during the ceremony, in which students shared their stories and how they overcame adversity to obtain an education. I was proud to be able to witness each student walk across the stage as they celebrated their accomplishments and begin their own journeys.”
Photography by Tony Novelli