Graduates share stories of success

Photo of graduates gathered at commencement.
By Greg MacDonald

June 13, 2024 - 05:23 PM

Mt. SAC will celebrate its 78th Commencement on Friday, and many students have enjoyed plenty of success on their way to graduation. 

Here are some of their stories:


Pablo Nunez started his career at Mt. SAC by commuting from 50 miles away… without a car.

A standout pole vaulter on the Track and Field Team, Pablo naturally found a way to leap over that obstacle.

“I found the solution: ride my bike from my home eight miles to the local train station, catch a ride to the City of Industry, and then ride for another 20 minutes to arrive at Mt. SAC before my 7 a.m. English class,” says the Moreno Valley native. “To get a little more specific, in order to make this commute, I had to catch the 3:45 a.m. train, which meant I began my day at 2 in the morning and left my house before 3 a.m.”

Pablo starts his day so early because it’s jam-packed with education, athletics, and extracurricular activities.

“While being a STEM student-athlete at Mt. SAC, I joined the Engineering Club and became a member of the Mt. SAC Rocket Team,” says Pablo, who switched his major to Liberal Arts with an emphasis in Mathematics. “Through the connections I made in the Engineering Department, I was able to secure a job on campus in the physics and engineering stockroom, which later led to me (also) working at the Mountie MakerSpace.”

With all the responsibilities he has in and out of the classroom, Pablo credits the fun and support he has received as the reasons why he found success and is graduating on Friday.  Photo of Pablo Nunez

“I have to give a shoutout to the Physics and Engineering Department for having, in my opinion, the most fun classes and groups of people,” says Pablo, who also is thankful for his time with the WIN Program and the Mountie MakerSpace.

Pablo made his supporters proud by placing third in the 2023 FAR Unlimited Competition, building rockets that defeated schools like Stanford and UC Berkeley; helping Mt. SAC place third at the 3C2A 2024 Track and Field State Championship and win its third consecutive state title; designing and building games for the 2024 Athletics Fair as the lead engineer; and maintaining a GPA above a 3.5 as a student-athlete and student worker with two jobs. So, what’s next for him?

“Transferring comes with a lot of unknowns, and I am currently unsure of where I will be transferring,” Pablo says. “I can say I was offered a walk-on spot to Cal State Fullerton’s Track and Field Team but will not be attending this Fall. No matter which school I end up at for the 2025 track and field season, I will be continuing college athletics.”

While he decides on his next landing spot, the youngest son of Mexican immigrants will keep his vaulting skills sharp.

“After graduation, I will be heading to Mexico’s Olympic Training Center,” he says. “I hope to improve my skills and knowledge of the pole vault and potentially make a national team.”


Max McCarthy Neal experienced significant culture shock at age 16 when he moved to California from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“Moving to Claremont was night and day for me,” he says. “I went from the hood directly to the upper echelon of the burbs.”

Adjusting to a new high school also was difficult for him. Max completed school with mostly Cs and Ds, but thought he would start acing STEM classes in college. Max quickly found out he did not enjoy the biomedical field, and stopped going to class and started working on himself.

“In an attempt to find me and what I am, I looked at what I liked,” he says. “I enjoy reading and learning about Blackness, Black Marxism, and revolution. I just found what I loved to do and followed that.”

One of the paths he followed was in the footsteps of a friend who went to Mt. SAC and inspired Max to do the same. On this campus is where he connected with people and he “found out how to college.” Photo of Max Neal.

“Building community has been my favorite part of finishing my degree,” Max says. “Some of my favorite things were the long hours of studying, reading, and putting together presentations. I found great joy in the process of labor because at Mt. SAC I saw the fruits of that labor immediately.

“That’s not to say I did not despise the long study sessions, tsunamis of pages to read, and wanting to slam my keyboard because Google Slides wouldn’t do what I wanted it to. College is hard. Staying on top of all the assignments and managing my time was something incredibly difficult for me.

“But through community, I was able to learn how to be a better student and ultimately a better person who is leaving more disciplined and hard-working than when I entered.”

Max’s resume shows exactly that: appearances on the President’s List, a 3.9 GPA, the Inter-Club Council Representative for the Black Student Union, a Mellon-May fellow, and recipient of the Regents Scholarship.

When he graduates on Friday, Max will feel vindicated by this portion of his educational journey.

“To me, graduating means resistance,” says Max, who is deciding between Pomona College and UC Riverside as his next school. “To me, education means everything. It is something that cannot be taken away from me. And as a Black queer student, I have much to resist. And having a diploma is proof of what cannot be taken away from me. It is proof of my wit, intelligence, and creativity. It is proof of my humanity for all those who wish to see my humanity dismantled.”


Jacqueline Hammer decided to pursue her dream of becoming a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Counselor and be an inspiration for her children during the middle of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Little did she know that a global pandemic wouldn’t be the greatest obstacle she would have to overcome on her educational journey.

“Before my first day of class, I was hit with a Stage 3 Breast Cancer diagnosis,” Jacqueline says. “For a split second, I was thinking about not continuing with my education goals for fear of the unknown. What if I fail? Will I be able to do cancer treatment and school?”

Instead of letting cancer beat her before she began, Jacqueline drew on her own previous victories to stay the course. Photo of Jacqueline Hammer

“I decided right away that addiction had already stolen years of my life,” she says. “I was not about to let cancer do the same.”

Throughout her classes and presentations, Jacqueline endured treatments and surgeries.

“That first semester, I did six rigorous rounds of chemotherapy as a full-time student, but I also made the President’s List with a 4.0,” she says. “The following semester, I underwent a few surgeries: I had a double mastectomy; and when they found more cancerous cells during the biopsy, I had to have another surgery to remove 16 lymph nodes from my left arm.”

Still, Jacqueline remained in class, present and able, and turned in top-notch work.

“The following summer semester, I took one course as I underwent 30 rounds of radiation and again maintained my 4.0,” she says. “The following year, I underwent the grueling process of breast reconstruction … and became an honors student.”

Now, the recovering addict and cancer-crushing graduate gets to enjoy her moment at the 2024 Commencement on Friday.

“Being a first-time graduate student means that I am setting the bar for my children,” Jacqueline says. “College was never the plan for me growing up. Addiction had torn my upper middle class family apart by the time I entered kindergarten. My siblings went from private schools to high school dropouts. So it seemed addiction was a path already paved for me. And it was for a long time, but I have been sober for 10 years now.”

Jacqueline is honors certified, nominated for a Student of Distinction award, and was part of the PTK All USA Academic team for 2022 and 2023. Immediately after graduation, she will continue her education at Grand Canyon University, where she will be pursuing her Bachelor’s in Science in Behavioral Health Sciences.

“I plan to continue to work in the behavioral health field as a SUD counselor while attending college,” Jacqueline says. “After I get my Bachelor’s Degree, I plan to continue my education at GCU in getting my Master’s Degree to become a licensed marriage and family therapist.”

When she realizes that dream, Jacqueline can offer this advice to her future clients: “You don’t have to play the hand you’re dealt,” she says. “There’s nothing wrong with reshuffling your deck.”


September 18, 2020, is a date Carlos Lopez will always remember. It marks his parole and the day he decided to become the first in his family to earn a college degree.

“Graduating means a lot,” Carlos says. “It means everything for me and my family. I have a brother who is still in prison. He’s been in there for almost 30 years. (Graduating) has made me become me. I found out who I am, and I am not just some kid that followed his brothers around the neighborhood all the way to prison because it was scarier to be someone different than to be yourself.” Photo of Carlos Lopez

Carlos found himself at Mt. SAC by getting involved, being accepted by his peers, and using the resources to advance his education. He was part of the Male Minority Initiative, Rising Scholars, and Aces, among others, and he earned three scholarships to use as he transfers to Cal State Fullerton. 

“The community and support here is a blessing,” Carlos says. “Meeting others that walked the path before me helped me grasp that it is possible no matter where you come from or past mistakes. Success can be achieved.”

Carlos is so grateful for everything he received at Mt. SAC that he can’t thank his fellow students enough and wants to pay it forward at his next campus and beyond.

“I want to help others in specialized programs like Rising Scholars, but anywhere I can support students to build our future leaders,” he says. “I really just want to thank all the students for being brave enough to be themselves and helping me be my true self.”


When it comes to success, the ball is in Angilicia Besiant’s court.

But it took her some personal trials and tribulations to take possession of her path to victory.

After an unsuccessful attempt at Mt. SAC right out of high school, Angilicia moved out of the area and down to Atlanta, Georgia to live with her sister for a year.

“I started going down the wrong path. It was rough for me,” she says. “I tried to be independent, but it was hard to maintain. I was really depressed.

“My grandfather came to visit me, and when he saw me, he saw a different me. He was like, ‘What is going on?’ So, the next morning, he said, ‘You are coming home and you are going to finish school because this isn’t you and this isn’t who I have raised.’”

Angilicia returned to Mt. SAC, and she says, “the sky was the limit.”

“Once I realized that it only takes effort and initiative, once I realized it takes you to do it, I just started passing classes left and right,” Angilicia says.

She also reached out to the Women’s Basketball team and was able to walk-on and redshirt her first year back.

“I was grateful to be part of the team,” Angilicia says, “and I am grateful for the opportunity.” Photo of Angie Besiant holding a basketball.

She found support from her athletic counselor, coaching staff, the WIN Program, and Umoja Aspire, and that helped her get back on track.

“Shoutout to Aspire,” Angilicia says. “After practice, my teammates and I would go right over to Aspire and eat snacks and study all night.”

All that studying helped Angilicia earn two degrees, one in Kinesiology and another in Administration of Justice. The former resident of South Central L.A. has plans to be a defense attorney.

“Coming from L.A., I encountered a lot of people and lost a lot of friends,” she says. “I have seen a lot of people incarcerated. Seeing that realm and seeing how the injustice is there, while also seeing people not making the best decisions… that’s why I want to go into law. I really want to help others and just be the one who can make things better for people.”

Before going on defense in the courtroom, Angilicia still has plans to make plays on more basketball courts. She has narrowed down her transfer school to three options: Cal Baptist, Louisiana State University, and the University of South Carolina.

“I love the women’s program down there,” she says of South Carolina. “I love (South Carolina coach) Dawn Staley, and I feel under her guidance, I would excel.”

But that decision can wait. Today is about her graduating with two degrees, and her grandfather will be one of her proudest supporters among the crowd.

“If it wasn’t for Athletics and Mt. SAC, I don’t know where I would be,” Angilicia says. “I wouldn’t be in the position I am now. I am very fortunate to have this village and this family here.”


Jonathan Valle feels like he has been on campus for 10 years, but it really has only been seven. Who is counting though? Photo of Jonathan Valle

During his time here, Jonathan has made the most of it. The deaf student graduated with a major in sign language interpreting and will be transferring to Cal State University Northridge during the 2024 Fall Semester.

“It is hard work, and it shows my family who I am as a deaf student,” says Jonathan, who worked on campus both at the Center for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students and at the Speech and Sign Success Center. “I want to thank my family and friends for their support.”

At Northridge, Jonathan will continue his studies in sign language, and he will look for employment as an interpreter after his next graduation.