Friday, June 4, 2021

Celebrations to honor about 1,800 graduates

Melissa Shields, left, and Shanae James-May
 The graduating classes of 2021 at Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges are holding their commencements virtually, with drive-thru processions the day before for more jovial -- but still safe – celebrations.

Almost 1,790 graduates from the two colleges will receive 4,854 degrees and certificates in virtual ceremonies to be held 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 9, for Grossmont College and 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 10 for Cuyamaca College.

Digital presentations of electronic slides featuring the accomplishments of individual graduates will take the place of the traditional processional. Because of COVID-19 safety protocols, the colleges opted for online commencements to protect the health and safety of the community. The drive-thru events give the graduates an opportunity to dress in their regalia, decorate their cars, have photos taken and be congratulated by faculty and staff along the route.

With many earning multiple degrees and certificates, 1,554 graduates are eligible to receive 3,687 degrees and certificates from Grossmont College. At Cuyamaca College 632 graduates are eligible to receive 1,167 degrees and certificates.

The graduates and their families and friends - will be logging  on to www.cuyamaca.edu/posts/commencement21.php and www.grossmont.edu/commencement  to watch the event, and can post celebratory messages on social media at #CuyamacaGrad2021 or #griffingrad2021. Grossmont College graduates will be driving by in 30-minute increments between 9 and 11 a.m. on June 8. At Cuyamaca College, the 30-minute time slots are from 9-10:30 a.m. June 9.

Lynn Neault, chancellor of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, said the resiliency of students, the commitment of faculty to keep on-line classes engaging and the determination of administrators and staff to provide exemplary service have been remarkable since March 2020, when the pandemic forced the colleges to begin holding most classes remotely.

“The perseverance of our graduates is reflected in every degree and certificate earned,” Neault said. “It has been a challenging 15 months as we all have struggled in this lock-down era of COVID-19.  But thanks to the vaccinations – including those dispensed to the public at our campuses – we are looking forward to safely reopening our colleges and students returning to the campuses in the next academic year.”

           Each college selected a student speaker to address their fellow graduates.

Grossmont College speaker

Melissa Shields is proof that all things are possible for those who believe in themselves, especially when they work hard and get the support they need to succeed. At age 53, the Grossmont College student commencement speaker is a first-generation college graduate.

As a young adult, Shields believed that she was unintelligent. After her parents’ divorce, she dropped out of high school at 18. Then, life happened, and she became a wife and mother.

As her children grew up, she realized that she had a limited ability to assist them with their homework. She was also embarrassed and ashamed to tell her children that she had not graduated high school.

But when she was 47, she decided to let go of her secret and tell her children the truth. She subsequently enrolled in adult school to earn her General Equivalency Degree, then enrolled at Grossmont College where she “absolutely fell in love with the school.”

Throughout her time at community college, Shields has had her ups and downs, but she never gave up.

“When Covid-19 hit right in the beginning of my statistics class, I panicked and freaked out because I just didn't think I could do it,” Shields said. “But through it all, with prayer, hard work, dedication, and reliance on all of the support systems our school has in place, I have accomplished my goal.”

Shields graduates from Grossmont College with an associate degree in wellness and self-development. She plans to transfer to San Diego State University this fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Africana Studies, and hopes to later earn a master’s degree in counseling.

Cuyamaca College student speaker

Shanae James-May is a Communications and Behavioral Science major at Cuyamaca College and plans to transfer to San Diego State University to pursue a degree in Urban Planning and Development.

Like many college students, in her five years at Cuyamaca College James-May juggled a full-time job, a family with small children, school, and community volunteer work. She persisted with the support of her husband and family. 

While a student, James-May was actively involved in UMOJA, a college support program for underserved students. It is through her engagement with the organization that she met her “wonder-counselors” who provided her the one-on-one attention she needed to prepare and excel in school.

A Lemon Grove resident, James-May is deeply committed to her community. She serves as a board member and volunteer for the Lemon Grove Community Garden, and she supports events and outreach for Thrive Lemon Grove, a community organization that seeks to improve the city. Long term, James-May wants to serve the community by creating better infrastructure – buildings/housing, transportation, and/or better resources for children.

“I want to see my people succeed and be proud of where they come from,” she said.

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