At Foothill, teachers are able to form relationships with students because they understand the experience of attending a community college, as exemplified by the faculty speaker, Debbie Lee, who has taught math at the college since 2007. In her address to students, Lee chronicled her journey growing up in San Francisco as a Chinese American woman, then as a community and state college student, and becoming the first in her family to graduate from college.
Lee said she achieved her academic success in spite of racism and stereotyping from other students and instructors. She was told that "her English was pretty good," that she ought to remain quiet and deferential to other students and authority figures, and learned that she could not navigate the world without first confronting other people's assumptions about her.
She encouraged graduating students not only to embrace who they are, but go further by questioning which people or institutions create definitions of belonging and dictate how they experience their identity. "I challenge you to think about these stereotypes," she said. "Grades do not define who you are. Stereotypes do not define who you are."
Faculty and staff were forthcoming with expressions of joy and affection for the students. Foothill College President Thuy Nguyen urged the class of 2019 to be fighters for justice and promoters of social good, and closed her remarks with, "I love you, congratulations!"
Daisy Rosalez introduced Eman Magzoub, the recipient of the first Service Leadership Award, and used her time on stage to talk about her own story, noting that Foothill nurtured her both academically and personally. Rosalez said she grew up in San Bernardino, where the local high school has a 50% non-completion rate. Before attending Foothill, she joined the military and worked in fast food restaurants, gaining first-hand experience in both public service and the injustices levied against those working minimum wage jobs, she said.
Rosalez asked her peers to think about all of those who would follow in their footsteps, many of whom were the first in their families to graduate from college. "It is in your daily actions that you speak to the world about who you truly are," Rosalez said.
Students were celebrated as they received their diplomas, with faculty announced where they would attend school in the fall, winners of dean's awards, honors scholars, first-generation college students, and affinity group memberships.
After the ceremony, faculty and staff lined the walkway to the reception area near the Smithwick Theater, offering hugs and words of advice and wisdom to the departing students.
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