More than 1,200 degrees and certificates awarded at May 26 commencement

Photo courtesy Gavilan College
Some 2022-23 Gavilan College athletes pose for a photo.

By Calvin Nuttall

Struggle, perseverance, redemp-tion, and gratitude served as themes dominating three emotionally moving speeches given by exceptional students at Gavilan College’s May 26 commencement ceremony, the first since spring 2019.

Keynote speaker Isaiah Bonilla took to the stage to share his experience as a former Marine who returned to education after his tour of duty. He graduated with a guarantee of transfer to San Diego State University where he will study economics.

“I never liked school growing up,” he began his speech. “I think it’s hard as a kid to appreciate what it should and could be. When I graduated high school in 2015, additional school was the last thing on my mind. I had no motivation, desire, or interest in anything school-related.”

That changed for Bonilla when, while on active duty stationed in North Carolina, he met an inspirational economics instructor who encouraged him to study economics.

“My educational experience here at Gavilan has been a story of redemption,” he said. “Not only did I prove to myself that I could, but I can and I did. I went from the bottom 20 percent to a 3.9 GPA and a future SDSU graduate.”

Graduating with an associate degree in political science and a guaranteed transfer to the University of California, Berkeley, Esmeralda Garcia told the audience her story of hardship and perseverance through her struggle with a serious injury during her schooling.

“I thought I had it all figured out,” she said. “I had a 4.0 GPA, a job working with other youth on political advocacy, and I had obtained an internship with a county judge. I was starting to feel like everything in my life was aligning, like the pieces of the puzzle were coming together. But then, I got into an accident that left me immobile and temporarily disabled.”

In order for her to recover, Garcia had to let her job and internship go. Devastated, she felt everything she had worked so hard for had come to a screeching stop. But she found at Gavilan the encouragement and help she needed to pick up the pieces and continue to move forward.

“My professors motivated me and inspired me with their kind words,” she said. “I don’t think they realized how impactful and important their words and actions were. I hope when I become a professor, I can be half as passionate, considerate, and impactful as the staff at Gavilan.”

As the third keynote speaker, Maria Isabel Montes Bernal gave an impassioned speech describing the delicate balancing act of pursuing higher education as a married mother of two. Bernal graduated with an associate degree in kinesiology and plans to work as a physical therapist.

“I came to this country nearly 30 years ago, full of dreams and plans to achieve a better life,” she said. “There were times that I felt I could not achieve it because being an adult student with work and family responsibilities makes everything difficult but not impossible.”

Bernal thanked her family for supporting her through her schooling, as well as friends she made among her fellow students, whom she called her “angels.”

“I invite any person, young or adult, who has the desire to study to go for it,” she encouraged the crowd. “It is never too late. If you believe in yourself, and put your heart and your mind to it, you can succeed. Believe in yourself and just do it!”

More than 1,200 degrees and certificates were awarded. More than a quarter of the 2023 class received at least two degrees or certificates. The ceremony also honored 54 Gilroy Early College Academy high school students who received both an associate degree and their high school diploma in a partnership between Gavilan and the Gilroy Unified School District to provide college classes to students.

Calvin Nuttall is a Morgan Hill resident and freelance reporter.