Just over 400 graduates appeared in sunny but blustery weather and crossed the stage one by one at Gavilan College’s 99th annual commencement ceremony on May 24. According to the school’s Facebook page, 990 students in total petitioned to graduate, and the school awarded 1,593 degrees and certificates.
San Benito County Junior College was established in 1919 and operated under this title until 1963, when a community college campus was built in Santa Clara County. Gavilan College plans a 100 year Gala in September of this year.
The ceremony was moved from the soccer field on the Gilroy campus to parking lot H due to rain earlier in the week. As a result, the ceremony felt a little underwhelming for some.
“Finishing Gavilan was a huge deal for me, and the ceremony was kind of a letdown,” said 22-year-old graduate Julia Skapik. “It felt odd and insignificant compared to the GECA graduation.”
The Gilroy Early College Academy commencement took place on May 23 in the Gavilan College Theatre. According to Gavilan President and Superintendent Kathleen Rose, 74% of GECA students, high schoolers who share a portion of the campus with Gavilan students, received an associates degree.
Rose recognized the faculty in her welcoming speech at the May 24 ceremony.
“Your dedication to teaching, inspiring and coaching our students throughout the year—ensuring that the learning environment is comprehensive, creative and stimulates curiosity—is commendable,” Rose said.
In their welcoming speech, outgoing Associated Students of Gavilan College President Nolan Golden shared their struggle to overcome a diminished perception of themselves, formerly shaped by the values of others. Golden related their story to the stories of other students living through the current political climate who often feel their stories lack value.
“Your story matters, you matter, do not let anyone or any institution try to tell you differently because it is far from the truth,” Golden said.
Golden is a champion for all Gavilan students, but especially for its LGBTQ students. They organized the first National Coming Out Day event at Gavilan and persuaded the campus to become the first community college in the state to raise the LGBTQ flag.
Rolanda Pierre-Dixon, retired assistant district attorney for Santa Clara County, gave the commencement address. Pierre-Dixon was the first African American to hold the office and spent her career improving the lives of women and children in Santa Clara County, “speaking for those who could not speak for themselves.” To close her speech, Dixon offered the graduates a little sage advice.
“I want you to take this away with you today: In this time, when women’s rights and values are being questioned, and minorities are being belittled and devalued, remember my story,” she said. “One little black girl can, and did, make a difference in her community because she was told she could do it, and so can you.”
In a similar spirit, honorary degree recipient and local community/environmental activist Margaret Morales Rebecchi shared her story with the audience. She credited the influence of her father, who worked as a farm laborer, as the inspiration for her activism dating back to the early days of the civil rights movement. Rebecchi, who lives in San Benito County, received the Woman of the Year Award by both the Mexican American Committee on Education and the San Benito County Chamber of Commerce. She asked graduates to “remember where they come from, to work hard, never give up hope, participate in your communities, and vote.”
In her speech, Rebecchi also thanked her husband.
“All these years he was babysitting and cooking, for me to do all my work,” she said holding back tears. Her closing statement was a rallying cry to “build bridges, not walls.”