College of the Canyons conferred over 2,200 degrees in a two-part ceremony held on the campus’ honor grove on Friday.
The theme of this year’s commencement was grace, which, according to COC Chancellor Dianne Van Hook, held multiple meanings.
“I’ve learned so much from you, the class of 2023. The most important thing that I’ve learned though, is that grace matters,” said Van Hook. “Grace is both a character quality and an acronym. It stands for gratitude, resilience, aspiration, courage and empathy.”
Van Hook elaborated on the acronym by saying that gratitude is that attitude that lifts the class’ hearts and it elevates its spirits, resilience is what makes the impossible possible, aspiration is knowing they can make tomorrow different, courage is not not having any fear, but rather knowing fear and moving beyond it anyway and empathy is “meeting others where they are to understand who they are, to listen from the heart and to learn.”
There were a few students Van Hook used as examples to highlight the commencement’s theme.
One person’s story she wished to highlight was that of Laura Llamas — a paralegal student who logged her first day of class from the bed of a hospital’s emergency room. Llamas was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in May 2022.
“She didn’t want to miss her first day despite falling ill, not when she was only one semester shy of graduating,” said Van Hook. “She’d already battled through six months of chemotherapy and found refuge in her studies, and she was determined to graduate today. She was here this morning. She said, ‘You have to fight for your dreams.’ Laura was resilient. She fought for her dreams and she won.”
The average age of the class was 24, with its youngest student being Cory Chen,16, and its oldest being Virginia Giritlian, 72. Van Hook said Giritlian was an inspiration to everyone and an example of determination.
“She’s proud of being 72 and a graduate,” said Van Hook. “She serves as a reminder and an inspiration that learning is truly a lifelong endeavor.”
The commencement address was given by the class’ valedictorian, Mildred Adebowale. Her introduction was given by Omar Torres, assistant superintendent of COC.
“(Adebowale) comes from a large close-knit family. They are a vital part of who she is and their love and support have shaped her values and her perspective on life. She takes great pride in her Nigerian heritage and culture, which holds a significant place in her identity,” said Torres. “She describes herself as a free spirit and can be found smiling, dancing, radiating happiness wherever she goes.”
Adebowale challenged her class to show resilience, determination, and an unwavering belief in their abilities during her address.
“Do not be afraid of failure, for it is only through facing our fears that we can truly succeed,” said Adebowale. “Cherish the relationships you have built during your time here and let gratitude guide you in all that you do.”
COC’s class of 2023 had 2,206 graduates from 108 different majors with 914 honors students, 91 of them having a 4.0 GPA. The class GPA was 3.30. The number of students graduating with two or more degrees was 881.
Trevor Morgan covers community, culture, health and breaking news for The Signal. Before coming to Santa Clarita, he was the online editor for Cal State University Northridge's student newspaper, The Daily Sundial. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from CSUN and an associate's degree in music from Ventura College. Have a tip? Message him on twitter @trevorwmorgan or at [email protected]