WHITTIER — Rio Hondo College celebrated 1,828 graduates during its 56th annual commencement ceremony May 23, including 16 students who received the college’s first-ever bachelor of science degrees.
College President Teresa Dreyfuss congratulated graduates at the program’s beginning.
“Our dedication to Rio Hondo students is seen in the increased number of graduates who receive associate degrees, the increased number of graduates who transfer to four-year universities and the increased number of graduates who enter into vocational and professional careers,” Dreyfuss said.
“Today, we also celebrate our first-ever bachelor of science graduates in automotive technology,” she said. “This marks a historic accomplishment in California’s community college system, as we are one of only 15 community colleges in the entire state that offer four-year degrees.”
Dreyfuss, who was presiding over her final graduation before retiring June 30, also recognized the 2019 recipient of the Distinguished Faculty Award, Professor John Frala. Frala has led efforts in the automotive technology major and helped the college secure a landmark partnership with Tesla to train auto technicians. This spring, the third cohort of students graduated, all finding immediate employment with Tesla.
The event featured a keynote by Rio Hondo College alumnus Luis S. Garcia, who advocates for marginalized communities as the director of programs and services at the Weingart Center in Downtown Los Angeles.
Garcia, who struggled in high school and earned his diploma while incarcerated, urged students to be lifelong learners who contribute to their community, focus on the positive and “walk into your loveliness.”
“As you leave here this evening ready to turn all your hard work and your dreams into reality, I hope you never lose the will to learn,” he said. “Hold on to your imagination. You reached one goal here this evening when you earned your degree or certificate but remember this is an intermediate goal that has prepared you to take another step forward — whatever that may be.”
Board of Trustees President Gary Mendez told the graduates that he and the other college leaders understand what it took for them to succeed.
“Over 30 years ago, I sat where you are today. I attended Rio Hondo and, like it was for you, it wasn’t easy,” Mendez said.
Valedictorian Hanh “Jenny” Pham, who earned a 4.0 GPA, was honored with the Pellissier Family Award. As an immigrant from Hanoi, Vietnam, Pham arrived in the U.S. about four years ago. An early childhood education and accounting double major, she plans to pursue bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Cal State Fullerton.
This article originally appeared in the Wave Newspapers.