The Victor Valley College campus, after several months of quietness, was brightened by the spirit of commencement on Saturday, beginning with a drive-thru celebration which may have set a new standard for graduation.
Cap-and-gown-clad grads popped up from sunroofs, waved pompoms out car windows and shed tears of joy as they were exuberantly cheered on by VVC employees during the college’s first-ever “Drive-Thru Celebration by the Lake” from 9 a.m. to noon.
“It was so fun, and I think my family actually preferred it this way, more than the traditional ceremony … we were able to celebrate all together in the moment,” said graduate Dario Arriaga.
Complete with colorful decorations around the lake, live music from Mariachi Aguila Real, and small ramp “stage” on which graduates could park for a photo-op, the drive-thru was no doubt one of the most memorable VVC graduations, staff and students agreed.
It was the earlier of two VVC celebratory events on Saturday, to be followed by another first-ever, the “Virtual Commencement Ceremony,” livestreamed from the Performing Arts Center at 6 p.m.
Interspersed between graduates’ cars were classic cars from several local car clubs in the High Desert, leading the way.
“As we came around the turn to the lake and I saw everyone cheering and heard the music and seeing our professors there, I started crying with happiness,” said graduate Chad Read. “Again, through everything we’ve endured this year, VVC made sure we felt special and gave us an amazing ceremony.”
With a total of 1,500 graduates and an additional 250 students who earned certificates at VVC this year, the college surveyed students in May, discovering a near tie between those who wanted a drive-thru and those who wanted a virtual ceremony.
Victor Valley College chose to do both. Watch the livestreamed videos of both here.
Additionally, VVC has offered 2020 graduates the opportunity to walk in next year’s commencement ceremony, which, assuming coronavirus-related health orders regarding events are withdrawn by then, will be held at the Glen Helen Amphitheater, America’s largest outdoor music venue.
While the drive-thru portion of Saturday’s festivities provided an occasion for graduates to decorate their caps and cars, cheer and honk their horns, and receive small takeaway gifts — including graduation yard signs and commemorative medallions — the virtual ceremony embraced the formal aspects of commencement.
Superintendent/President Dr. Dan Walden welcomed attendees tuning into the live video on the VVC website, congratulating graduates on joining “a distinguished list” of VVC alumni and recognizing faculty and staff for their contributions to the success of the Class of 2020.
Graduate Jonathan Bañuelos sang the National Anthem, soon followed by an address from VVC Board of Trustees President Joseph W. Brady.
Brady shared many pieces of advice with graduates, including “share your solutions, not your problems,” “do what you love to do or you’re just wasting time” and “challenge the status quo.”
“Our hope, as trustees, is that many of you will return to the High Desert to become our local entrepreneurs, managers and executives, and continue to reshape the leadership that our community needs in order to continually grow and prosper,” Brady said.
In her speech, Associated Student Body (ASB) President Amber Scott encouraged her peers to “apply the knowledge and skills” they gained at VVC to elevate themselves and others.
“We will never forget the time in 2020 when the entire world had to stop,” Scott said. ‘But we always remember and carry with us the very same character, ethics, and beliefs that helped us remain loyal to our goals. Today we celebrate that.”
Walden introduced the featured guest speaker, Mugunth Vaithylingam, Chief Information Officer for the College of Southern Nevada, to provide graduates with additional guidance as they look toward future opportunities. Listen to his full speech here.
“You surmounted a challenge that has necessitated this ceremony to be virtual, and that is not something to be understated,” Vaithylingam said. “As you go on to the next part of your life story, cherish what you have accomplished, lift up others, value time, and remember that we are all in this life together.”
He ended on this phrase: “Humankind. Be both.”
Vice President of Instruction Dr. Peter Maphumulo recognized all of the honor graduates, Phi Theta Kappa international honors students and those who served the ASB Council, while Walden gave special thanks and congratulations to VVC’s veteran graduates.
The college had a record number of valedictorians this year, with 22 students graduating with a perfect 4.0 grade point average. Of them, Courtney Wells, who earned three associate degrees including a sociology degree for transfer, was selected as the valedictorian class speaker.
Wells shared that her experience of being homeschooled 1st through 12th grade taught her to be independent, but caused her to miss out on “a sense of community.”
“After coming to VVC, it was a really massive turning point for me to realize that I couldn’t just get through life without forming connections with others or without utilizing every support system that is offered to me,” Wells said. “…as we look out for each other through these unusual times and continue on towards the endeavors that await us in the future, Victor Valley College will continue to be a source of support for us because this college has been, and always will be, a welcoming community for all.”
Following the speeches, a slideshow played featuring nearly 600 graduates who signed up to participate in the virtual ceremony. Each graduate’s name was announced as their personalized slide displayed their photo, degrees earned and a short personal statement.
Once all the graduates were recognized, Walden and Maphumulo performed the official conferring of degrees and Scott led the class in the traditional turning of the tassel to symbolize the end of the VVC Class of 2020’s journey together.