The Class of 2023 celebrated the trials, triumphs, grit and resiliency that helped them succeed on their path to graduation during Commencement.
About 7,500 graduates from spring 2023, fall 2022 and summer 2023 received their undergraduate and graduate degrees to the roar of thousands more family members, friends and supporters during 12 ceremonies from May 22 to 24.
For many of the graduates who persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic, the celebratory event offered them a chance to reflect on and appreciate their adaptability — adjusting to remote learning, embracing hybrid classes and returning to campus fully.
“Class of 2023, I stand before you all proud of all your accomplishments knowing that the road to graduation hasn’t been easy,” said student speaker Gabriel Chaidez, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and the Julian McPhee Award recipient for the College of Business Administration.
“We were immediately met with the challenges that COVID-19 brought us at the beginning of our higher education journey. Through adaptation, dedication and will, we persevered through it all to be where we are today.”
Cal Poly Pomona alumna Andrea Worrell (’97, English) came to see her daughter Katherine Garcia receive her bachelor’s degree in history. Worrell credited Garcia’s participation in the Rose Float program with helping her to forge an even deeper connection to the university.
“Words can’t express how proud I am of my daughter,” she said. “It was lightning speed, and I think COVID sped it up because she wasn’t here in person for some of it. I am glad she had one ‘normal’ year, and I am so grateful for Rose Float and the opportunities it gave her.”
Garcia, who heads to Cal State Fullerton in the fall to pursue a master’s degree in public history, said her involvement in Rose Float is a memory she will cherish most. She served as the vice president for the 2023 float and the decorations chair the year before that.
“It’s great that I had my friends through Rose Float,” she said. “My friends in my major have been great too, but it was the greatest college experience because of Rose Float.”
Excitement overflowed with graduates posing for selfies and photos as they awaited for the processional. Family and friends filed into seats clutching flower bouquets, stuffed animals and congratulatory signs.
Morongo Valley resident Dianne Wells brought a stuffed hedgehog for her daughter Katlynne Wells, who graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering and already had a job with the San Diego-based Clark Construction.
“I am very, very proud,” Wells said of her daughter. “Because of the pandemic, it took her a little longer. The classes were tough, but she did it.”
Farrah Assadi, who came out to see her nephew Justin Asadi graduate with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, danced in front of the stage while holding a “Congratulations” banner after the ceremony ended. It was truly a family affair, with Justin’s grandmother, aunts, uncles and mom Rose Ponce and dad John Asadi in attendance.
“I am very excited,” Farrah Assadi said. “He has loved his experience going to school at Cal Poly Pomona and he wants to get his master’s degree here.”
History Professor John Lloyd went from a participating faculty member in the ceremony for the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences to sitting in the audience to watch his daughter Janelle Lloyd cross the stage to receive her bachelor’s in kinesiology in the College of Science ceremony.
“I am feeling super proud, but also just really happy for us. She’s the baby, so this is special,” Lloyd said. “She wants to work with people with disabilities in occupational therapy or adaptive PE. Her brother attended the Motor Development Clinic on campus, so that is what inspired her interest in working with people with disabilities.”
Commencement featured several student and guest speakers, including honorary doctorate recipients finance entrepreneur Sean Yu (’99, political science; management and human resources) and Clark Rucker (’83, engineering technology), who retired after a 43-year career in aerospace engineering. Both are actively involved with the university and encouraged graduates to stay connected to Cal Poly Pomona and find ways to give back.
Yu encouraged graduates to work hard to overcome negative emotions, define their one, five and 10-year goals and put in the hard work necessary to achieve success.
“Work and life is going to be stressful no matter what. Find your own solution to resolve it,” Yu said. “You are the one and only one who has control over your life. Don’t worry about the stuff you have no control over.”
Rucker recalled how his late father, a police officer and artist, touched so many people from different walks of life. At his funeral 20 years ago, Rucker recalled how every attendee had a personal story to share about how his father helped them.
“My father had created a legacy that has lived on long after he has passed. And that’s when it hit me,” he said. “I spent so many years creating my career learning all the things that I know about aerospace engineering, management, leadership, and business in general that it would be devastatingly wrong for me to take it to my grave with me and not share it with you.
“If you want to know why I do what I do, the answer is very simple. I do it for every one of you. I am creating my legacy through you.”
University President Soraya M. Coley urged the graduates to “do the thing you think you cannot do,” — to be persistent and set high expectations.
“You are not who you were when you began your Cal Poly Pomona journey, nor are you an empty vessel waiting to be filled,” she said. “Rather, you brought hopes and aspirations, and that you are preparing to cross the Commencement stage is a testament to your self-determination, your resiliency in facing your fears and meeting and overcoming challenges.”
Notable Quotables Overheard at Commencement
Students, faculty and speakers offered wisdom and shared their perspectives on graduation.
“To see my brain and heart open up here has been so surreal. Getting the opportunities I’ve gotten through being at Cal Poly Pomona have been the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced in my whole life.”– Emily Quinton, College of Business Administration, marketing management
“My parents came from nothing and as a DACA student, I came here to give it my all. I came here with nothing and I’m leaving with so much more than I arrived with.”– Francisco Caudillo-Lopez, College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences, communication multimedia
“I feel very accomplished, that the hard work is really paying off. It has been rewarding. It was challenging at times, but it was well worth the time and effort I put in.”– Theodore De Santos, College of Science, master’s in mathematics
“When you decide what it is you want to do, take into account what it is that you desire and want out of life, but also what is needed in community. What’s important to the community and how can we make a real difference?”Dr. Richard Rodriguez (’70, biology), Guest speaker for the College of Science
“It was really tough. It was a lot of studying, a lot of homework and a lot of nights sacrificed where I couldn’t go out with my friends because I had to study. It’s a program that is very challenging. For students who felt lost, there was lots of collaboration between students where we would help each other.”– Luis Mora, College of Engineering, mechanical engineering
“I am a firm believer that anything can be possible with a support system and hard work. Note, without fear there is no courage, and that same courage will allow you to make an impact.”– Diana Aguilar-Cruz, CSU student trustee, College of Science, biology
“Attaining success, doing good things and doing them well comes down to who you are more than anything else. You need to move with the world around you, even if you find yourself in a position to shape it. Know that you’re always in full control of who you are, your approach to problems and how you treat others.”– Geoffrey Okamoto (’08, computer information systems), Managing Director of the Office of Government Affairs at Goldman Sachs, guest speaker for the College of Business Administration
Videos and Galleries
To watch videos of the ceremonies, visit the commencement website. To see photo highlights from the 12 ceremonies, click on the following links:
- Don B. Huntley College of Agriculture
- College of Business Administration
- College of Education and Integrative Studies
- College of Engineering
- College of Environmental Design
- The Collins College of Hospitality Management
- College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences
- College of Science