Hundreds of students filed into the Garden City Community College Dennis Perryman Complex, following in the footsteps, literally or figuratively, of the 98 classes that came before them.
But, evidenced by glowing, earnest, individual smiles and raised fists in celebration to the cheers of families, the commencement ceremony that has repeated at GCCC for nearly a century was transcendent of inevitable tradition and cliche. It was, as always, a significant moment for the people it belonged to: the 450 students that sat in brown robes and yellow tassels at the center of the gym.
GCCC President Ryan Ruda, taking the stage in his position for the first time, ran through a highlight reel of the college’s students accomplishments. The meats judging team won Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Intercollegiate Meats Contests for the first time in the program’s history. The quiz bowl team returned state champions. With five students, the college saw the largest representation in the Kansas Intercollegiate Band of 2019. The football team became conference champions and runners-up to the NJCAA national championship. A fleet of individual students found success in research or college conferences and scholarships.
“You see the values that we share, the values that will be with you as you set forth onto your next goal. I see you. I see you, graduates. And we all see you. And, today, we celebrate each and every one of you,” Ruda said.
There were moments for some individuals. Clara Jackson and Azat Jumadurdyyev were named as the class’ outstanding female and male students, respectively. Art instructor Brian McCallum became the year’s outstanding faculty member, chosen by his peers.
Florence Wilson, a 1940 GCCC graduate, longtime educator and namesake of Garden City’s Florence Wilson Elementary School was honored as a distinguished alumnus, taking the stage via wheelchair to accept the title and address graduates. There are patterns in your life, she said, and if her soon-to-be fellow alumni found themselves in a job they loved, they were welcome to stand by it.
But if they found themselves unsatisfied or wanting to try something else, they should take it, she said.
And then the night turned, again, to its students — speakers Jackson and Raul Leyva-Montes. Their presence, Ruda said, was a reinstatement of the tradition of having students speak at the ceremony.
Both spoke of pride and possibility. Community college students enjoyed a smaller, friendlier and calmer environment, one that studies showed led them to success as they furthered their education. And every student at the college had found success in their individual fields after facing individual struggles, he said. He said the students’ passion and sense of self should direct them more than any predetermined path or expectation.
Leyva-Montes’ parents did not have the opportunity to attend high school or college, he said. His experiences are also their experiences.
“Even being up here is an honor of a lifetime. My last two years here at Garden City have been one of the most gratifying experiences ever,” he said.
The struggles Leyva-Montes mentioned could sometimes be failure, as Jackson described. This year, she failed her national EMT certification test three times before finally overcoming the barrier, a series of trials that had her questioning whether the program was one she was meant to continue. Doors of opportunity can sometimes feel closed and locked to students, she said. Sometimes that was for the better. And sometimes they needed to be broken down.
"In the coming years, whether you’re entering the workforce or transferring to a four-year, there are going to be doors you need to break down. Opportunity doesn’t just wait for you. You have to go find it and make it your own. Garden City Community College has done a great job of doing just that: of offering opportunities,” Jackson said.
The ceremony was one of the years of opportunities becoming realized.
And at the end of the night, before students took the stage to claim their prize as individuals, they stood to be presented as a class to a boom from their proud families, for a moment, as had been done 98 times before them, sharing a milestone that was all theirs.
Contact Amber Friend at firstname.lastname@example.org.