The long-awaited day of walking across the stage in regalia with a diploma cover before friends, family and fellow classmates finally occurred for the classes of 2020 and 2021 in the College of Education and Integrative Studies.
Last year, the Class of 2020 was forced to sacrifice this momentous occasion to keep everyone safe and prevent the spread of coronavirus. No one knew the pandemic would last this long and deny students the normal send-off they traditionally receive.
Fortunately, California has done well in mitigating the spread of COVID-19, which has allowed Cal Poly Pomona officials to work with state and local authorities to offer in-person drive-in commencement ceremonies CEIS celebrated theirs on May 22.
For Fabian Pugal (Cahuilla), a 2020 liberal studies graduate, the opportunity to celebrate in-person was a very proud and emotional moment. During his time at CPP, Pugal has been a student mentor in CEIS’s Native American Pipeline program administered by Professor Sandy Dixon (Hopi), chair of the Department of Ethnic and Women’s Studies. The Native American Pipeline program seeks to improve college-going and graduation rates among Native American students.
“This is one of my greatest achievements,” said Pugal. “I’m grateful for all the opportunities that Dr. Dixon gave to me. I came a really long way from wanting to drop out of college and pursue my art career to now realizing that I can make more of an impact through education and helping my community, while still pursuing school.
At first, I thought going to college was a waste of time and money but just gaining so much knowledge and staying committed really changed my lifestyle and thinking. I could have easily just dropped out and went to work, but I kept with it and now I want to inspire other youth to keep going to college. I’m glad I stuck with it.”
Watching Pugal walk across the stage was a very powerful moment for his mentor, Professor Dixon.
“It was such a pleasure to meet Fabian as a young man in high school from one of our local California Cahuilla tribes several years ago,” said Dixon. “He came to our Native American Pipeline program and was a role model even then. He thought deeply about life, equity and being.
To see him walk across the stage and graduate Saturday was sheer pleasure and joy. I will always remember his graduation and his family’s special day. I am very proud of his accomplishments. He will be a mentor this summer in our pipeline program. He truly has a traditional and modern story to tell.”
For another student, Sue Monemi, a gender and ethnicity and multicultural studies (GEMS) graduate, celebrating in person was very precious to her.
“I waited a very long time for this moment,” she said. “I have always yearned to follow my dreams. I pushed back so many boundaries and after more than 20 years, I came back to school after having my two kids who are now teenagers. I want to be a better mom, a good role model for them and finally I made it. I want to say thank you to my supportive family and all my mentors at Cal Poly. I have gratefully enjoyed my beautiful journey at Cal Poly with my GEMS family, who gave me the opportunity to thrive. GEMS is truly a hidden gem in my life.”
Likewise, Rosie Ngo, an early childhood studies graduate, is happy to finally reach this milestone.
“This has been a lifelong journey because when I was younger, I really wanted to become a teacher, but I switched around majors until I finally gave in and decided that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life, so I did it.”
CEIS commencement was presided by Interim Dean Iris Levine and included remarks from President Soraya M. Coley and a commencement address from California State Senator Connie Leyva (D-Chino), chair of the Senate Education Committee.
During her address, Leyva offered congratulatory remarks and best wishes to the CEIS graduates.
“Whatever you decide to do in the months and years ahead, just be sure to always be true to yourself and others,” said Leyva. “I am reminded of a quote by Martin Luther King Jr., ‘Intelligence plus character, that is the goal of true education.’ Your values and your character, coupled with your education and all you’ve learned along the way, will certainly help to shape your future ahead.”
Following Senator Leyva’s address and before the conferral, Levine recognized the hard work and perseverance of the graduates.
“While our ceremony may only be an hour in length, the dedication and perseverance our graduates have shown to achieve their degrees, measures in years,” she said. “The honor we are about to bestow upon you is one you should hold with pride as a degree is earned and not given. And though some of the pomp and circumstance of our ceremony may be missing, none of what you have earned lacks any luster. If anything, your achievements shine even brighter as you come out the other side of this pandemic.”
After the conferral of degrees and shifting of the tassels from right to left, the graduates were invited to line up and walk across the stage. Levine closed by encouraging the class of 2020 and 2021 to maintain their ties to the university.
“I want to emphasize that you, the graduates, are lifetime members of our Cal Poly Pomona community. While you may move onto graduate studies, to be a lawyer, a teacher, a social worker, an entrepreneur, a Peace Corp volunteer, or an activist for those whose voices cannot otherwise be heard, please know that you have proven that you are resilient and persistent,” she said. “Congratulations and bravo to you all!”
The event ended with confetti and loud honking instead of applause, as Levine welcomed the graduates as the university’s newest alumni and introduced a video offering a final congrats from the entire CPP community.
“Graduation was amazing,” said Oscar Marin, a 2021 GEMS graduate. “Never have I ever felt so proud and accomplished. All the late nights of studying, exams, projects, papers and presentations finally paid off! I wish I could’ve been able to see my mom’s reaction of me walking down the stage, but I know she looked down on me and was proud of me knowing that I graduated from college!”
The university also will host virtual ceremonies for the classes of 2020 and 2021 in all eight colleges on May 29 and May 30 at 9 a.m. PST.