Community college hands out record number of degrees to ‘largest class ever’

Published in the June 7 – June 20, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Staff Report

Morgan Hill Life file photo
Cecelia Ponzini in Cecelia’s Closet. The nonprofit gives clothes to the needy for job interviews. On May 26, she received an honorary degree from Gavilan Community College.

Gavilan Community College presented a record 1,267 degrees and certificates to 741 graduating students at its 2017 commencement ceremony Friday, May 26. The graduation represented “the largest class ever in the history of the college,” said Gavilan College Superintendent/President Kathleen Rose.

The graduation ceremony started with the traditional procession of graduates walking from the Arts Quad along Sycamore Lane, over the bridge and into the gymnasium, where they were greeted by family, friends and faculty. The Associated Students of Gavilan College set up a reception outside the Gavilan College Theater, while the graduates were assembling.

The ceremony began with the national anthem, performed by Gavilan College student Mike Rock, followed by welcoming remarks from Rose.

“Walking across the bridge together this evening always symbolizes the beginning and the end of pursuing an educational dream. And I expect some of you are reflecting on that as well,” she said. “To receive your degree or certificate tonight is definitely the achievement of a dream. So while I wish for you that your dreams continue to come true, I also want to tell you that your best life is also in the undreamed.”

She encouraged the graduates to pursue the mean pursuits in the next chapters of your lives.

“You have received many gifts during your time at Gavilan to support your dreams and support your goals,” she said. “And if we’ve done our job well here at Gavilan, you are prepared to support the community, take leadership roles in whatever career you select, and build tolerance and resilience in the world around you … We are proud of you and know you will continue to see the world through curious and thoughtful eyes with the knowledge that the best is indeed yet to come.”

ASGC President Omar Lopez addressed the graduating class and then Rose introduced the Keynote Speaker, Gavilan College alumnus Danielle Rhinehart.

Rhinehart has worked in music promotion, helping up-and-coming artists find a foot-hold in the industry. For five years she organized the artists for the Morgan Hill Mushroom Mardi Gras. She earned her associate arts degrees in liberal arts at Gavilan College and went on to get her Bachelors and Masters degrees in communication studies from San Francisco State University. An essay she wrote was recently published in the New York Times best seller, Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It. The book is a collection of essays that tell the stories of people who were inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel.

Instructor Ken Wagman, President of the Gavilan College Faculty Association presented the faculty scholarships, and instructor Jennifer Nari inducted the new lifetime members of the Rho Alpha Mu Honor Society.

Board of Trustees President Laura Perry conferred the honorary degree for Morgan Hill resident Cecilia Ponzini. Ponzini has served on the United Way South County Council, has been a member of the El Toro Community Advisory Board, represented the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce as an ambassador, and is a member of the Morgan Hill Kiwanis Club. In 2013 Cecelia co-founded the Edward Boss Prado Foundation with her husband, Gary Ponzini, in honor of her son, Edward, who passed away at age 29. In 2014 they opened Cecilia’s Closet and Food Pantry, providing clothing, food, and supplies to people in financial need in Morgan Hill. Ponzini was recognized as the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce 2014 Woman of the Year, and is a recipient of a resolution from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors for philanthropic work within the Morgan Hill Unified School District as well as being an alumna of Leadership Morgan Hill’s class of 2014. In 2015, Cecelia was a recipient of the 10th Annual Morgan Hill Community Foundation Philanthropy Award.

“Cecelia has single-handed created many programs in the community that help youth feel included and special,” Rose said. “Cecelia’s shared with me that her own life path was never easy or simple. She was married at 16 and had four children by the time she was 19 and then became a single parent. She struggled for many years in the system trying to get financial resources for her own family. Today she’s happily married to her husband, Gary Ponzini, who is here in the audience today.”

Michele Bresso, vice president of instruction at Gavilan, presented the Outstanding Scholar Awards, one to TJ Owens Early College Academy/Gavilan College student Rayleene Miranda, and one to Gavilan College student Andy Christian Tan.

Bresso also presented the candidates for graduation to the Gavilan Community College Board of Trustees. The names of all candidates were read aloud by Faculty of the Year Mari Garcia and Part-Time Faculty of the Year Meredith Hurley as the graduates crossed the stage in the Gavilan gym to receive their diplomas. The ceremony ended with the conferring of degrees by Rose, marked by the traditional move of the tassel on each graduate’s mortarboard from right to left.

By the Numbers

1,267 — degrees and certificates were presented
270 — Associate in Arts (AA) degrees
83 — Associate in Arts for Transfer (AA-T)
145: Associate in Science (AS) degrees
98 — Associate in Science for Transfer (AS-T)
648 — Certificates (some students earned more than one degree or certificate)