Friday, May 29, 2015

Grossmont, Cuyamaca graduates to receive over 4,200 degrees and certificates

A continuing focus on student success is paying off for Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges, where more than 2,100 graduates will receive a record number of degrees and certificates next week.

With some students earning multiple degrees and certificates, about 1,500 will receive 3,315 degrees and certificates Wednesday, June 3, at Grossmont College. More than 600 will receive 904 degrees and certificates the following day at Cuyamaca 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 front of the B building, the Communication Arts Center.

The 11 percent increase in degrees and certificates since last year reflects initiatives such as the Associate Degree for Transfer, or ADT, program to help students reach their educational goals. The new transfer degree is a guaranteed transfer program for community college students to continue their education at a California State University. At Grossmont College, 525 ADT degrees are being awarded this year, compared to 340 last year.   Cuyamaca College has nearly doubled the number of ADT degrees, growing from 100 a year ago to 194 for the 2014-15 academic year.

Chancellor Cindy L. Miles also credited California’s economic recovery and funding increases that have set the district on the road to recovery from the state budget reductions between 2008 and 2012.

“Increased funding will allow us to continue to restore access to our colleges and help students succeed in greater numbers,” Miles said. She noted that 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.

Grossmont College commencement

Pearl Lopez, a counselor in Grossmont College’s Extended Opportunity Programs and Services office, will be the alumnus speaker at Grossmont College’s 54th annual commencement ceremony.  A 25-year veteran of working in community colleges – 22 of those at Grossmont College – Lopez is a first-generation college graduate familiar with the many struggles experienced by EOPS students, identified as economically and educationally disadvantaged.

Lopez, who received her associate degree in 1995 from Grossmont College, went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree from San Diego State University. She earned a master’s degree in counseling and, in 2014, received  a  doctoral degree from SDSU in educational leadership with a specialization in community college/post-secondary education.

A Grossmont College EOPS counselor since 2004, Lopez gives the program credit for her success and sees her job helping students in the program as a way of giving back.

Caleb Martinez
The student commencement speaker will be Caleb Martinez, who is graduating from Grossmont College with an associate degree in political science and university studies with an emphasis in social and behavioral sciences.

Martinez overcame a childhood of poverty, living in crime-ridden neighborhoods and spending periods in juvenile hall before he became a straight-A student in college. He is headed in the fall for the University of California, Berkeley, where he eventually plans to major in political science and obtain a law degree. 

Born on the Pascua Yaqui Reservation in Arizona, and raised by a single mother who worked two jobs to make ends meet, Martinez said he and an older brother, Jimmy, both got in trouble with gangs. That penchant cost Jimmy his life about a decade ago when he was killed by a rival gang member.

The turning point for Martinez was the birth of his daughter. A devoted single father, Martinez vowed to give his little girl, Nevaeh, now 9, a better upbringing and started his new course in life by enrolling at Grossmont College once she started kindergarten. He has thrived at Grossmont, working 20 hours in the EOPS office, proving himself as an academic standout, and presiding over the EOPS student club.

Cuyamaca College ceremony

Cuyamaca College’s 37th annual commencement ceremony will feature as its keynote speaker Star Bales, an El Cajon City Council member and 2006 visual arts graduate of Cuyamaca College.

Born in Iraq, Bales came to the United States in 1979 and has lived in El Cajon for 31 years. She regards her community service, including positions as a commissioner for the El Cajon Arts and Culture Commission and for the El Cajon Planning Commission, as well as her work with the El Cajon Historical Society, as a way of thanking the community for showing her “unconditional kindness.” Cuyamaca College nominated her as a 2014 Distinguished Alumni for Outstanding Achievement and Service, an award given by the Community College League of California.

This year, two student speakers will take the podium – valedictorian Marissa Morrison and a student selected by student government members, Elsa Hernandez.

Marissa Morrison
Morrison, who graduates with a perfect 4.0 grade-point average, has earned associate degrees in three areas of study: psychology, social and behavioral sciences, and communication and language arts. In addition, she will receive two certificates of achievement in CSU General Education - Breadth and American Sign Language.

Headed in the fall for San Diego State University, Morrison plans to major in psychology and eventually enter the field of law or to become a marriage and family counselor.

Born and raised in Jamul, Morrison first became familiar with Cuyamaca College as a middle school student. Two younger siblings also attend Cuyamaca and Grossmont colleges. Always an outstanding student, she set a goal years ago to graduate from Cuyamaca College with straight A’s.

“I love the peacefulness and beauty of the campus – it reminds me of home,” she said.

Morrison persevered even when the 2007 Harris fire destroyed family’s home, which left her homeless and living for a time in motels. She is back living on the property and helping her parents rebuild.

In addition to volunteering as a tutor at Steele Canyon High School, Morrison spends many weekends attending community events as the reigning Ms. Mountain Empire and will be competing at the Council Youth Empowerment-Miss California pageant.

Fellow student speaker Elsa Hernandez started at Cuyamaca College in fall 2012 as a first-generation college student and became interested in student government while participating in the college’s First Year Experience, a program providing guidance and assistance to freshmen to help them stay in school. FYE advisers recognized her as a leader and encouraged her to take an active role at the college.

Hernandez served as Cuyamaca College’s student trustee of the college district Governing Board in 2014-15, then became student body president after completing her term on the board.

An international business major with an emphasis in Spanish, she will be attending San Diego State University in the fall to earn an international business degree. She plans to continue with student government at SDSU and upon graduating from the university, she has her eyes set on joining the Peace Corps.

Governing Board President Bill Garrett said he always looks forward to this time of year and is constantly reminded of the life-altering impact of community colleges.

“This is truly a time of celebration and looking ahead to promising futures,” Garrett said. “Our graduates received an excellent education and they face boundless opportunities ahead.”