Grit, determination and the ability of choice were a running theme at the College of the Canyons graduation ceremony on Friday.
“It takes a lot of courage to walk into your own story and be the hero of your life, where you have to rescue yourself, and I’m sure you had to rescue yourself a lot during these last two and a half years,” COC Chancellor Dianne Van Hook said in her welcome address. “But you did just that. Well, at COC your story has been fueled by your spirit, your courage, and most of all, by the choices that you have made each and every day.”
Van Hook expressed that among the multitude of choices made by students, all of those choices led them to this day.
“So with the spirit and perseverance, you kept writing your story. You didn’t drop out or stop out. You made the other choice, that choice to keep going, to keep moving forward,” said Van Hook. “Even in the face of worry and doubt, sadness, fear, distress, distraction and difficulty. The most important story you’ll ever hear in your life is your own, not the one you read, but the one you write based on your daily choices.”
A total of 2,443 students became a part of COC’s class of 2022, the largest class since before the pandemic. Of these, more than 1,000 graduated with honors, the youngest graduate was 17, and the oldest graduate was 78, according to COC’s graduation statistics.
Most, if not all, of them studied during the pandemic. Van Hook said that more than one student attended classes while homeless and many did so while working full-time, caring for their children, or caring for sick family members.
One student, Randy Johnson, said he worked 40 hours a week and commuted from Carson in order to graduate.
“Well, I had to work full time to support myself to get through, you know, making it day by day, helping my girlfriend get her master’s degree. She had to, you know, not work. So I had to help her out throughout the time. And just commuting back and forth to work and doing school on Zoom in the morning,” said Johnson.
As Johnson talked about his experience, he tried his best to hold back his emotions as he described what it felt like to finally graduate.
“Feels very good, very great. Phenomenal actually… I want to cry, but I can’t cry, like, no. I’m trying to keep myself looking good. You know?”
COC’s class of 2022 had 86 Equal Opportunity Programs and Services graduates, 154 Disabled Students Programs Services graduates, 1,652 minority graduates (over half), 1,483 female graduates (over half), 48 veteran graduates and 19 international student graduates. The class grade point average was 3.32.
The class represents 105 majors, with business (341) ranking as the leading field of study among graduates, followed by liberal arts and sciences, psychology, accounting and sociology.
Graduates from the class of 2022 will be launching careers in a wide variety of fields, and transferring to four-year schools including multiple University of California campuses, multiple California State University campuses, Mount St. Mary’s, University of Arkansas at Pine-Bluff, Auburn University, Clarke University, Coastal Carolina University, Culver-Stockton College, Davenport University, Graceland University, University of Kansas, University of Oregon, University of Nevada, University of Houston, and University of Hawaii.
The choice to persevere was evident in valedictorian Victoria Pusic, who detailed her college experience as a disabled student. As Pusic spoke, there were several times when she was on the brink of crying, but pushed through.
“I aspired to and was well on my way to becoming valedictorian of my high school, enrolled directly to a four-year university… excuse me… and experience high school and college as most kids do,” said Pusic. “I felt like I failed. My body failed me and I was faced with the crushing thought that I could not achieve my dreams. Although attending College of the Canyons was not my first choice, I now realize that it was the best thing that could have happened for me.”