Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Graduation for the Class of 2014 at Cuyamaca and Grossmont colleges

Time to celebrate at Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges
More than 2,000 graduates will receive a record number of degrees and certificates from Cuyamaca and Grossmont colleges in the first week of June, a substantial increase that can be attributed to student success initiatives that are helping students at both East County campuses to achieve their educational goals.

With many receiving multiple degrees and certificates, more than 600 graduates will receive 878 degrees and certificates Wednesday, June 4, at Cuyamaca College. Over 1,400 will receive 2,952 degrees and certificates the following day at Grossmont College.

Both commencements begin at 5:30 p.m. Grossmont College, at 8800 Grossmont College Drive in El Cajon, will hold its ceremony in the Main Quad. Cuyamaca College, at 900 Rancho San Diego Parkway in Rancho San Diego, will hold commencement in the Student Center quad area.

The 18 percent increase in graduates, and the 23 percent increase in degrees and certificates awarded from last year reflect efforts at Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges to help students succeed in their classes and earn their degrees. Numerous programs at the colleges provide mentoring and tutoring, along with instructional and student services. As students near the number of credits needed to graduate, the colleges are proactive in reaching out to assist them with the final steps needed to earn their degrees.

The commencements cap a busy and productive year of rebuilding resources as the colleges continue a slow and steady recovery from the state budget reductions between 2008 and 2012.  With voter passage of the Proposition 30 tax measure in 2012, the colleges have been able to add hundreds of additional classes, including a more robust summer session and winter intersession classes that enable students to get the credits needed  for degrees.

New initiatives such as the Associate Degree for Transfer program have been a big plus. The transfer degree is intended to ease the process for community college students to continue their education at a California State University. More than 100 graduates at Cuyamaca College and nearly 340 at Grossmont College will be receiving associate transfer degrees.

“A renewed focus on student success, coupled with the modest gains we have received in state support, have made it possible to open our doors to growing numbers of students,” Chancellor Cindy L. Miles said         .

Cuyamaca College ceremony

Cuyamaca College’s 36th annual commencement ceremony will feature as its keynote speaker Mae Brown, assistant vice chancellor of Admissions and Enrollment Services at the University of California, San Diego. The Arkansas native, a first-generation college student from a family of migrant workers, has a bachelor’s in liberal and social studies, and a master’s in guidance and counseling, both from San Diego State University. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in higher education at Claremont Graduate University.

“Ms. Brown, who began at UCSD as a clerk typist in 1972, has a compelling story, one that will be a source of inspiration to our graduates as she tells of her personal commitment to continued education and lifelong learning,” Cuyamaca College President Mark J. Zacovic said.

Nancy Yousif
The student speaker will be class valedictorian Nancy Yousif, an Iraqi refugee with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average. She will receive an associate degree in social work, with plans to transfer to San Diego State University in the fall.

Yousif, 33, fled her ravaged country in 2008 with her children and husband, who is also now a Cuyamaca College student.  She began as an English As a Second Language student at the college in 2010. With three sons and a part-time job as a student worker in the college’s Disabled Students Programs and Services office, Yousif said she rarely began her studying until after 10 p.m., continuing until 2 or 3 in the morning.

Her early struggles adjusting to life in America as a refugee have instilled in her a goal to become a social worker. And teachers like ESL instructor Alicia Muñoz have made her realize how much a difference a caring mentor can make.

“She helped me from the very beginning to get into the ESL classes that, especially back then, had such long wait lists,” Yousif said. “It took over a year to get into those classes. And I am so grateful for the support and encouragement she continued to give me.”

Grossmont College commencement

Former San Diego County Chief Administrative Officer Walt Ekard will be the alumnus speaker at Grossmont College’s 53rd annual commencement ceremony.  A San Diego native, Ekard attended Grossmont College in 1974 before going on to receive his bachelor’s in history from San Diego State University and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of San Diego School of Law.

Ekard served as the chief executive for the nation’s fifth largest county for nearly 14 years, managing a workforce of over 16,000 employees and an annual budget of $5 billion.

After Ekard retired in 2012, he was once again called to public service by the City of San Diego in July 2013, following accusations against then-Mayor Bob Filner. Ekard served as the interim chief operating officer for four months to help stabilize city operations during a tumultuous period.

Zechariah Bolz
The student commencement speaker will be Zechariah “Zach” Bolz, who is graduating from Grossmont College with an associate degree in German. Bolz will be starting in the fall at the University of California, Berkeley, where he plans to major in economics and political science. 

With a 3.92 grade point average, he also received acceptance letters from other top universities -- Cornell University, UC San Diego, and UC Irvine.

“Zach is an outstanding student who excelled in community college and will now be transferring to one of the premier universities in the country,” college President Sunita “Sunny” Cooke said. “He’s a great example of how students can use their time at Grossmont College to open doors and be well-prepared for the future.”

Bolz first came to Grossmont College at age 15 to take a class in German in preparation for studying abroad. He became a full-time student in fall 2012, majoring in German, with aspirations of applying his linguistic skills to a diplomatic career. He followed up his stay in Germany with a year studying in China.

Now 20, Bolz credits Grossmont College for giving him a solid foundation for his studies ahead at Berkeley.

“What I really appreciate is that it was a very interdisciplinary education,” Bolz said. “Grossmont has a wealth of classes – the opportunity is there for you to acquire a broad education – one that will open up so many avenues.”

Graduates at both colleges will be congratulated as they receive their awards by members of the college district’s governing board. “Commencement is always an event I look forward to with great anticipation, a time of celebration and promising futures,” Governing Board President Bill Garrett said.