June 5, 2021
Ivan Chairez, Photo Editor
June 5th, 2021 marked a special day for the Peralta Latinx community, as a touching celebration was held online for Latinos, Latinas and Latinx individuals as they graduated from Berkeley City College, Laney College and Merritt College in Oakland, and College of Alameda while embarking on a new journey in their lives. The live event was organized by CoA Puente Director Horacio Corona Lira and BCC Associate Dean of Educational Success Martin De Mucha Flores and took place from noon to 3pm via Zoom.
Upon arriving at the event, DJ Oakland Slim aka Vincent Briffa welcomed everybody with vibrant and cheerful music ranging from local bangers to Mexican classics, setting the mood for a joyous celebration. Then came a Four Directions Blessing Ceremony by the Café Santana Family, a ceremony that calls on the East, West, North and South which honors the four cardinal directions of the universe accompanied by two dances, the first one honoring mother earth. The second dance was a wounded warrior song, honoring the pain and struggles of life and bettering oneself.
The Latinx Graduation also featured touching comments and reflections, starting with Trustee Dyana Maria Delfín Polk who congratulated the graduates, speaking of their bright futures beginning to take form. “My hope for all of you is that you continue to pursue what you’re passionate about and use this opportunity to give back,” Delfín Polk said. “We need all of you to stay connected to Peralta as mentors and as examples of the paths that our students can take.”
Peralta Interim Chancellor Dr. Jannett Jackson also took to the virtual stage to congratulate the students saying “Today is your day, a day to celebrate. Bask in the glow of your accomplishments,” Dr. Jackson said. “Just keep doing what you did to be here today. Keep your eye on the prize and sometimes you will take leaps, sometimes many steps, but always, always, always continue the struggle.”
State Chancellor Dr. Ortiz Oakley made an appearance and spoke about his experience “as a Latino student, a Mexican American growing up in the LA area.” He spoke about how he didn’t enroll in college right out of high school, landing in military service instead. “I didn’t go to college until well after I came back from the military.”
Oakley reflected on the effect community college had on his life. “It completely changed my life for the better. So congratulations to you. We have this opportunity to celebrate the great milestone that our hugely talented students have achieved.”
The four Peralta college presidents then gave their congratulations to the outgoing graduates, starting with Merritt College President Dr. David Johnson who spoke about the hardships and challenges that the Peralta community faced this past year, ranging from personal adversities to the Covid-19 pandemic and social and political unrest.
“Today you can take solemn pride and know that despite the odds, you’ve made it, you are exceptional, and you are now college graduates,” Dr. Johnson said. “Going forward, I want to encourage you to be fearless and undeterred in the pursuit of your goals.”
Then came Laney College President Dr. Rudy Besikof, who gave his own words of encouragement.“As you move forward, please celebrate and take a moment and recognize not only the great work you did, but also any among you who supported friends, your family, your classmates,” Dr. Besikof said.
Next up was College of Alameda President Dr. Nathanael Jones III. “Remember, to help and support others to succeed as you’ve done,” Dr. Jones said. “I challenge you to continue to grow in knowledge and wisdom. courageously standing up for what is good, right and virtuous.”
Last but not least was Berkeley City College President Dr. Angélica Garcia, who is the first Chicana Latina president of the college. Dr. Garcia reminisced about her own commencement ceremony over twenty years ago and how amazing that moment was for her to walk the stage, a moment the current graduates were experiencing in their own ways, remote but shared. “Your celebration today, you are unlocking the door that you just have not yet crossed in your journey, and as you cross through one door, you open that for someone else to follow with you and for Berkeley city college students in particular, I want to take a moment here as other presidents have. I am so proud of you,” Dr. Garcia said.
Students from each Peralta college then took over the virtual stage, expressing their gratitude and reflecting on their struggles and success. Their words were heartfelt and heavy, bringing out joyful cheers from the audience; a clearly overwhelming and truly beautiful experience for the Latinx scholars and all those who came to show their love and support.
“Today, we must be proud because we took this bold decision of investing in ourselves and taking advantage of an opportunity to learn and grow,” Merritt student Edwina Malinberg said. “Whether you have a clear plan ahead of you or if you are still figuring out what’s next, like I am, I just want to remind you that you are smart, beautiful and talented.”
Jaime Mendoza, a Latinx scholar from Berkeley City College who is transferring to UC Berkeley this fall as a media studies major said “I want to give a huge shout out to my parents who supported me and came to this country in 2012 and we have fought to stay afloat and follow our dreams ever since then.” The cheers and whistles went on for the next couple dozen of student remarks as participants unmuted their mics and shouted adoration for the graduates, all unique and beautiful.
The hopeful energy at the first annual Raíces Latinx Graduation was a truly unique experience for those in attendance. From the bumping positivity of DJ Oakland Slim, to the love and encouragement of the state chancellor, all four college presidents, student speakers and even the audience, the Peralta community came together and made this virtual event a memorable step forward in many bright futures.
You can watch the event here.