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GradFest Celebrates Student Success

Staff member giving gift to grad in car

May 26, 2021 - 06:14 PM

Happy staff member

With end-of-year celebrations limited by the pandemic, Student Services programs instead recognized students’ success Wednesday during Mt. SAC’s first-ever drive-through GradFest.

Nearly 500 students attended the event, held in Lot B.  Director of Outreach and Entry Services Tannia Robles said the pandemic has presented multiple challenges for the entire campus community, and especially so for minoritized students. 

"Many of our students participate in multiple student support programs that provide services that address their social, emotional, educational, and basic needs while also providing celebratory graduation items. Students and staff truly miss sharing space together," said Robles, who co-chaired the event's planning committee with CalWorks Director La Tesha Hagler. "Grad Fest was an opportunity for us to come together as a community and provide students a 'one-stop-shop' to be gifted not only commencement and special program regalia, but cheers, smiles, and love. The event is an example of what can be accomplished when a strong ethic of care is at the center of our services."

After passing through a balloon arch, students checked in and received a  free graduation package with a cap and gown, sash, totebag, and grad keychain in preparation for Commencement on June 11 at Hilmer Lodge Stadium. Then they proceeded to slowly drive by several booths, stopping to reconnect (while masked and socially distanced) with counselors and staff who supported them in reaching their educational goals.

The specialized student support programs that participated were ACCESS, ACES, Arise, Aspire, Bridge, CalWorks, the Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students, DREAM, EOPS/CARE, International Students, Minority Male Initiative, Pride Center, Promise +Plus, REACH, and the Veterans Resource Center.  Associated Students also hosted a booth. Each booth was adorned with balloons and other graduation-themed decorations, and every one had a variety of goodies for program graduates.

CARE booth

For example, the Aspire program gifted its graduates a kente cloth graduation sash, an insulated lunch box, Aspire t-shirt, and a copy of Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb, especially donated by the Library of America.

Aspire Director Clarence Banks said he was glad GradFest was organized, and said Aspire will still hold its end-of-year celebration, albeit online. “We do get to see them virtually, but this is nice to see them in person, even if we can’t give them a big hug. It’s good to put some eyes on them and share this experience with them.”

At the Arise program booth, graduates were greeted with music and a box filled with a kukui nut lei, an Arise mug, special medallion and snacks.  Arise Director Aida Cuenza-Uvas, who expected about 61 students to attend, said the event was a fun way to celebrate students. “This feels like a pre-party to Commencement.”

Other programs provided diploma holders, journals and pens, graduation stoles, and fanny packs, among other things. DREAM students were presented with a sealed box with instructions not to open it until June 5, when the program holds its end-of-year ceremony via Zoom.  And at the ACES booth, each student was given an envelope containing professionally taken photos of them dressed in their cap and gown.  “Being here physically with our students and celebrating this moment is beautiful,” said ACES Counselor Coordinator Diana Felix.

The students who attended GradFest agreed it was a special experience. Kristin Shoop, a psychology and sociology major transferring to Cal Poly Pomona, was all smiles as she picked up her swag from the Promise+Plus and EOPS booths. “I think it’s wonderful. It is so great that the college did this for us, especially because of the last year.”

Abraham Navarro, who is transferring to Humboldt State as a journalism major, echoed that sentiment. “I’m happy that something’s happening because it has been a down year. It’s nice to see some of the people I used to see all the time on campus. I miss my friends.”

Grad flashing peace sign

Photos by Jeffrey George