The familiar end-of-semester sights of hugs, joy and hundreds of happy Blue Devils returned Friday night to Stadium ‘76, as Merced College held its first traditional commencement ceremony for graduates since 2019.
Friday’s celebration came with a collective sigh of relief for many, following semesters filled with virtual classes, wearing masks, a clampdown on “normal” activities like sporting events and learning in an atypical academic setting.
Merced College President Chris Vitelli congratulated the students for the extra hurdles they surpassed during the past two years.
“The challenges you’ve overcome, the adversity, the late nights, maybe a couple trips to Dutch Bros. Maybe it’s a Jack In The Box. Extra trips to tutorial, studying at the Downey Center, the part time jobs, the full time jobs, the tears, the laughter, the ups and the downs and the numerous other efforts you have made,” Vitelli told the audience.
“Not to mention for this class, the face mask, the COVID, the quarantines, and all the other craziness you’ve experienced in the past few years. You’ve overcome a lot and we could not be more proud of your accomplishment.”
Campus officials said around 1,150 students were eligible to participate in this year’s ceremony. A total of 3,007 degrees and certificates were earned during the academic year.
After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, for safety reasons the college had a virtual format for commencement, with graduates receiving special video messages and a gift box.
In-person commencement did happen last year, but public health restrictions meant it was anything but a usual celebration. Each ceremony was limited to 200 graduates, and only two guest tickets were given to each graduate, to ensure enough space for physical distancing, according to a college news release.
Some graduates like Lizeth Torres on Friday shared personal stories of challenges they and their families overcame during the pandemic.
Torres told the audience of how her daughter, who graduated high school in 2020 during the height of the pandemic, had been accepted to UC Merced.
Yet because of layoffs that happened during the pandemic, attending a University of California campus was not an affordable option.
Torres said her daughter decided to spend her first higher education years at Merced College. On Friday, they both had something to celebrate. “Who would have thought mom and daughter would be graduating here today?” Torres told the audience.
“I want to thank our families, friends, supporters, who helped us on our path to accomplish our goals. We would not be here without you.”
Merced City Manager Stephanie Dietz was also on hand to congratulate the graduates, proclaiming how they represent the rich diversity of the community and the spirit to succeed despite the obstacles.
“You are a high school student graduating alongside your parent or a student looking to transfer to higher education or a student that’s ready to begin the profession of your dreams,” Dietz said. “You are artists, entrepreneurs, scholars, you’re athletes, chefs, nurses, firefighters, teachers, poets and so much more.”
The most popular degrees among this year’s graduates were: AS-T in Business Administration, AS-T in Administration of Justice, AA-T in Psychology, AA-T in Sociology, AA in Social and Behavioral Science, AA in Psychology, AA in Health Science, AS-T in Early Childhood Education, AA-T in Elementary Teacher Education, a campus news release said.
The Class of 2022 included more than 300 students who graduated with honors, having earned a grade-point average of 3.50 or better with a minimum of 45 units completed.
Fifty of those students earned Superintendent’s Honors by maintaining a GPA of 4.0 with at least 36 units completed.