Posted on: Jun 6, 2016 1:00:00 AM
In: Grossmont, Cuyamaca, District
Contact: Della Elliott (619) 644-7690 firstname.lastname@example.org
Two Iraqi refugees who succeeded academically through perseverance and strength of spirit, and a high-school dropout who’s now on her way to UC Berkeley, shared their inspirational stories at last week’s commencement ceremonies for Cuyamaca and Grossmont colleges.
The three were among the approximately 2,100 graduates who received nearly 4,200 degrees and certificates awarded this year at the East County colleges. About 640 Cuyamaca graduates earned more than 1,000 degrees and certificates at the college’s June 1 commencement, followed the next day by almost 1,500 Grossmont College graduates who earned more than 3,200 degrees and certificates.
Chancellor Cindy Miles gave a congratulatory whoop to the delight of graduates and spectators at both colleges, commending the graduates for joining the 40 percent of adults in the country to earn a college degree and encouraging them to continue their studies to become part of the elite 30 percent to hold bachelor’s degrees.
Governing Board Vice President Mary Kay Rosinski spoke about the college district’s continuing commitment to students. “When you were looking for a college to fit your needs and a dedicated faculty, we were here for you,” she said.
Cuyamaca College commencement
Leading Cuyamaca College’s 38th annual commencement was President Julianna Barnes, who announced a record-setting number of graduates in the class of 2016. She spoke of the college’s motto called the “The Cuyamaca Way,” which she said affirms the college’s commitment to nurturing the minds and the hearts of students.
“With this combination of both head and heart, we know that our graduates will make significant contributions in their chosen professions and in their communities,” she said.
Timothy Pagaard, an English instructor at the college since 1996, gave the keynote speech at the college’s commencement. Pagaad, who is retiring this year after 20 years at Cuyamaca College, spoke fondly of memorable students he met during his career. He recalled one student, a paraplegic who initially expressed doubt that he would complete the semester, but went on to form a study group, spurring others to learn. When the student died in the middle of the semester from medical complications, an enormous crowd attended the funeral, Pagaard said.
The valedictory speech was given by Maysaa Ibrahim, an Iraqi refugee who arrived in El Cajon in 2011 with her baby daughter, unable to speak English. She first enrolled at Cuyamaca College in 2012, and held . jobs as a student worker, tutor and peer advisor. Ibrahim finished as one of six in her graduating class to earn perfect 4.0 GPAs, and is heading to San Diego State University in the fall to become a Spanish teacher.
“My experience here has been an unforgettable journey that has helped prepare me for the future,” she said. “I consider my education like a validated passport, which allows me to explore the world and succeed in life.”
The audience also heard from Cuyamaca College honors graduate Rebekah Shtayfman, a high school dropout and teenage single mother who at times resorted to couch-surfing and the help of friends to get by. She persevered at Cuyamaca College, maintaining a 3.5 grade point average.
“I maintained the mentality that nothing would stop me, regardless of the situation,” said Shtayfman, who eventually was hired as a student tutor in mathematics and physics. She has been accepted with a full scholarship to UC Berkeley, where she plans to study physics. Her goal is to obtain a doctorate and become a professor.
“I will always hold this school dear to my heart, and will always remember that I am a product of such a tight community of students who were given an amazing educational foundation by inspirational and supporting faculty members,” she said.
Grossmont College commencement
President Nabil Abu-Ghazaleh opened the 55th annual ceremony at Grossmont College with welcoming remarks he gave in English, Spanish and Arabic out of consideration .for the college’s highly diverse student population.
“Community colleges are places of great opportunity,” he said. “Here at Grossmont College, we pride ourselves in our vision of changing lives through education.”
Monica Zech, public information officer for the City of El Cajon, former TV traffic reporter and former Grossmont College student, was both the keynote speaker and the first recipient of an honorary Associate of Arts degree from the college.
Zech, who chose to attend Grossmont College because of the strength of its communications program, said the words of wisdom she received from instructors were among her greatest influences as she left the college in the early ‘70s to begin a 30-year broadcast career that included an 18-year run as San Diego’s first television air traffic reporter for the Automobile Club of Southern California.
“Don’t be afraid of a challenge – go for it,” she told graduates. “Learn from those bumps in the roadway; remember there will be periods of pain and suffering, Make those learning opportunities lessons you can pass on to others. Follow your heart and follow your passions. Graduation isn’t the end of a rough journey – it’s the beginning of a new one.”
Grossmont College’s student commencement speaker Sandy Adwer spoke of the turmoil in her homeland of Iraq, which she fled with her family nearly a decade ago for . temporary refuge in Syria before the ensuing civil war led them to seek asylum in El Cajon five years ago.
She described her years at Grossmont College as a reawakening of her spirit.
“It was like I was born again,” said Adwer, who earned an Associate of Science degree in University Studies with an emphasis in Math, Natural Science and Computer Science. In the fall, she will be attending the University of California, San Diego, where she will pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology, with plans to eventually attend medical school to become a physician. “For the first time in my life, I was filled with hopes and dreams.”
The Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District has been serving East County since 1961. Grossmont College has more than 18,000 students, and about 9,000 students attend Cuyamaca College. For more information, go to www.gcccd.edu.
Students at Cuyamaca College 2016 commencement
Graduates at 2016 Grossmont College commencement