The 2023 Napa Valley College graduation ceremony blasted forward with considerable exuberance Thursday evening, with hundreds of students taking to the field of Napa’s Memorial Stadium to, after hearing from a series of speakers, receive recognition of their degrees and certificates of achievement.
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Following a procession of hundreds of graduates onto the field — most clad in forest-green graduation robes and caps, though many wore different colors to designate that they were graduating from a particular program at the two-year school — NVC superintendent/president Torence Powell welcomed the graduates as well as their family and friends who filled the stadium bleachers.
Powell, who also just finished his first year in the role, noted that graduation is a “time of both celebration and reflection.”
As a first-generation community college student himself, Powell said, he understands the great impact NVC has on the lives of its students. But he also asked the students to reflect on the wider role of education in society: the importance of it, how education is understood conceptually and how education is threatened.
“Reflect on the concept of education, its role in our society, and our role in supporting education,” Powell said. “At a time when the very concept of a liberal arts education is under threat, when the free exchange of ideas is perceived as a threat to some very influential people in this country, our unwavering commitment to supporting the concept of academic freedom is more important than ever. A community college education is as much a vehicle for social justice as it is for personal and professional growth.”
The crowd of nearly 300 NVC students represented about half of overall graduates of the school this year. Speaking to the diversity of the graduates, Powell noted at the ceremony that 47% of the graduating class identified as Hispanic or Latinx; that 32% of the graduates are among the first in their family to receive a college degree; and that 64% of the graduating class consisted of women. Powell also referenced the great range of ages among the class — the youngest graduate is 17 years old, he said, while the oldest is 69.
Keynote speaker Graciela Rodriguez Garcia — a graduate of the school who works as a licensed clinical social worker and Napa County mental health supervisor — noted that she grew up in a small village in Mexico and immigrated to the United States when she was 17.
Rodriguez Garcia said she attended high school and was told by a counselor that there was no way she could learn English and graduate — but the counselor was wrong. She went on to graduate with honors, attend Napa Valley College and find a community there.
“Napa Valley College gave me so much, including the opportunity to meet my best friends and the opportunity to meet the love of my life,” Rodriguez Garcia said.
Napa Valley College valedictorian Kēhaulani K. Auwae McAllister also spoke as a representative of her graduating class. Leading off with an “Aloha,” she gave a speech centered around comparing life — and the college experience — to the ocean, noting that the ocean has taught her that everything is connected.
Auwae McAllister, who encouraged the graduates to seek to have a positive impact on the world,ended her speech with a Hawaiian proverb: “A'ohe pau ka 'ike i ka hālau ho'okāhi,” which she said translates to “All knowledge is not taught in one school.”
“This proverb reminds us that education is a lifelong pursuit, and the learning we have done here at Napa Valley College is just the beginning,” Auwae McAllister said. “As we move forward, we must remember that we are all connected. We are all part of a larger ecosystem and our actions have consequences.”
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