Zellerbach Auditorium was filled to capacity Thursday, May 21, for Berkeley City College's 2009 graduation ceremony.
Two hundred and six graduates walked across the stage to receive their associate degrees.
“Education is discovering what is in you,” said commencement speaker Harry Le Grande, UC Berkeley's vice chancellor of student affairs. “Education is about finding out your personal desires.”
The ceremony opened with a few words from Berkeley City College's Associated Students President Tiana Renee Wilkes, who told how she persevered and made it through college after dropping out of high school in her senior year.
“The biggest thing that has allowed me to grow is all of you,” said Wilkes. “Through this economic crisis, I was able to see BCC emerge as a caring community. ... I encourage everyone here to increase community wherever you go. If I had not had a community here, I might have dropped out again.” Graduating senior Angela Brathwaite won this year’s Chancellor’s Trophy award. According to the Peralta Community College District website, the award “is given at the end of the spring semester to recognize and honor outstanding second-year students who best exemplify leadership, commitment to academic excellence and community service, and who demonstrate clear goals for the future.”
Upon arriving in Berkeley from Atlanta, Brathwaite found herself homeless. But after a lot of determination, according to one of her teachers, she enrolled at BCC and began an internship in the office of Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates.
History professor David Johnson encouraged students to reflect upon their years at college.
“I feel honored to sit before all these splendid students,” said Johnson. “Please understand that you have inspired your other students. You all need to see each other wearing your robes tonight. Not everyone who started with you made it here tonight. You are looking at people around you who are special and who have persevered. On behalf of the faculty, I would like to welcome the class of 2009 to the company of scholars.”
Perhaps the loudest applause of the evening came when the Berkeley City College Choir performed two songs, including Natasha Bedingfield’s "Feel the Rain on your Skin."
The star of the night, however, was class valedictorian David McMullen, an East Bay Municipal Utility District retiree who began his higher education career at Laney College in 1978. After many years at EBMUD, he enrolled at BCC in August 2006. He plans to go on to Cal State East Bay and get a bachelor's degree.
“I love education, and it has afforded me much,” said McMullen. ”I believe I want to major in environmental education, because I like doing things in the outdoors. The outdoors is an aspect of our society that is increasingly diminishing."
McMullen also expressed his gratitude to Berkeley Community College.
"Despite its architectural oddities," he said, "BCC has served me very well.”
Linda Handy, a trustee for the Peralta Community College district, reminded the graduates that their work is not over. “This is an incredible day,” said Handy. “The joy for me is when we see you all walk across the stage. Some of you think that you have finished, but you are just starting. Your education is our gift to you. What you do with your education is your gift to the world.”