SALINAS VALLEY — Hartnell College celebrated a joyous in-person Commencement on May 20 at Rabobank Stadium in Salinas for the first time since 2019 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
More than 700 graduates participated, the most in recent memory, and the college awarded a record number of credentials — 1,241 associate degrees and 1,006 certificates of achievement. Honor graduates, earning a 3.25 GPA or better, numbered 627, including 33 valedictorians with a perfect 4.0.
“My colleagues on the board and I are very excited to be back in an in-person graduation,” said Erica Padilla-Chavez, Hartnell Community College District Governing Board president. “Let’s hear it, graduates!”
Several members of the Platform Party, including Interim Superintendent/President Steven Crow, congratulated the students as each crossed the stage to be recognized and photographed.
Held on a bright, breezy and warm late afternoon, the ceremony was expected to last as long as three hours because so many students were participating, but brief speeches and quick pacing kept it to just 90 minutes. A near-capacity crowd of nearly 5,000 family and friends watched and cheered, and about 1,400 more viewed a live-stream on YouTube.
Cheryl O’Donnell, a business instructor at Hartnell and 2021-22 president of the Academic Senate, commended graduates on their accomplishment.
“Just look at you,” she said, pointing her index finger toward the students seated in rows on the football field. “You sit here tonight as the first class to be back live and in person after facing an unprecedented challenge, one that took you on an educational journey not imagined back in March 2020. You have shown us what you are made of — grit, determination, the ability to adapt, stay positive and, in the end, succeed. You are our success stories. Be proud of your accomplishment and enjoy this moment. You have earned it. Congratulations, Class of 2022!”
Padilla-Chavez introduced the valedictorian speaker, Jane Hernandez, who was chosen to address the graduates from among several students who applied for that honor. Hernandez, who was the 2021-22 president of the Associated Students of Hartnell College and student trustee on the Governing Board, will attend Stanford University this fall, with plans to major in psychology.
Like so many graduates, she paid tribute to her parents for helping give her the opportunity to obtain an education and pursue her goals.
“I am a proud Chicana,” Hernandez said. “I am the daughter of a hard-working Chicano father and of a Mexican mother who migrated from her country in search of the American dream. When my mother migrated, she probably thought she was doing it for herself, maybe her parents or maybe even her siblings. Little did she know she was also doing it for me and my brothers. I am grateful for the life lessons my parents were able to provide, as they have helped me be the better person I am now.
“… For the past several years we have had the have had the pleasure and the opportunity to be a student at Hartnell College, and even though our educational journey was not a smooth one, completing our degree has been a challenging yet rewarding experience,” she said.
“Regardless of what we decide to do with the education we have received, one thing is certain: We prevailed under all circumstances to be here today. As we continue on to our next journey, I hope that we all remember who we are and the community we come from.”
In addition to scores of Hartnell faculty who were seated on the field alongside the graduates, about 60 other employees helped set up the field, directed spectators and guided students to where they needed to be.
One aspect that was new this year was the processional of students in groups of Meta-Majors, which are clusters of similar academic majors that help students determine their career goals. Hartnell’s five Meta-Majors are: Agriculture, Business and Industries; STEM; Social Sciences; Arts and Languages; and Health Sciences.
Article submitted by Scott Faust, Communications Director for Hartnell College.