SWC grads go virtual

Courtesy photo Southwestern College will celebrate its 2020 graduates with a Friday, July 17, virtual commencement they will live stream.

A new look is coming on Friday, July 17, as Southwestern College opted for a virtual commencement video in the morning and a live streamed parade of graduates held on the Chula Vista campus.

Southwestern College Superintendent/President Dr. Kindred Murillo said when schools were closed early for spring break this year, she thought it would only be about three weeks to help flatten the COVID-19 pandemic curve.

“What we thought was going to be a short remote period has turned into, I believe, a yearlong situation at least where we will be mostly remote,” said Murillo. “We are just heartbroken for the students because they really wanted an in-person commencement. And they were very clear.”

Murillo said staff, led by Interim Assistant Superintendent/Vice President Tina King, went all out.

“Our leadership and our staff at the college were just determined to make sure our students had a special experience,” said Murillo. “We believe this is something they will never forget. It may not be what they wanted, but they will never forget this commencement.”

On June 18 the college had a drive-through give-away, providing each student with a free cap, tassel, Class of 2020 pin and a diploma cover to get the students excited about the upcoming ceremonies, said Murillo.
Juan Carlos Sandoval-Rodriguez was chosen to give the student’s commencement speech. Sandoval-Rodriguez, 22, Associated Student Government vice-president of club affairs, is majoring in international business with an emphasis on French and heading to UC Riverside to double major in international business and world studies. He is the first in his family to go to college.

In his commencement speech, Sandoval-Rodriquez said he told his fellow students that the world is a scary and very different from place the world they used to know before.

“Not only because of COVID-19 but also the country as a whole. We are going through such a dark and difficult time in our national and regional history,” he said. “For our minorities, the world has always been scary. But what we can do is to open our minds and work together.”

Southwestern College’s ASO went through an investigation after allegations of racism and unfair treatment in the spring 2019 elections. Investigators concluded that it was the fault of the advisors supervising the ASO for the racial tension. Sandoval-Rodriquez said it was tough, but it was worth the growth he gained through the experience.

Sandoval-Rodriquez said in a developmental point of view, his being part of the ASO has been the most significant part for him in going to college, working together with other students as a team, even when it was rough.

“For someone like me who grew up in Mexico, I never really had contact with black people, and everything that has happened has opened my eyes to this amazing culture they have,” he said. “It made me identify myself with their community so much. Though it has been really hard, and all the challenges that we have had to overcome, I’d say being part of that coalition, that in the end created a stronger community at the college.”

Ronnie Hands, interim director of Student Development and ASO advisor said Sandoval-Rodriquez is a very passionate student, open to dialogue and growth. He said that is one of the reasons he has been such an effective leader on campus and an intricate piece in helping the multicultural climate on the Southwestern campus.

Jenny Marasigan, Office of Student Activities student services specialist said there are about 2,600 students eligible to participate in graduation. She said as of now, there are around 900 students participating in the virtual commencement, and around 700 in the “parade of graduates.”
Marasigan said the ceremony will be uploaded to the college’s website in the morning so students, family and friends will have access, and at 4 p.m. they will live stream the parade of graduates.

“Students are so excited,” said Marasigan. “We encouraged them to decorate their cap and be ready for the parade.”

Since students cannot cross the stage this year, the team created an arch that the cars will pass through as their names are called out. Just one of the elements of this planned graduation day.

“Every year we do a student audition for someone to sing the national anthem in the ceremony. However, since we can’t do that, we were able to tap on one of our professors, Shaunte Griffith Jackson,” said Marasigan.

“She will be singing the national anthem in a colorful way and I think that is something that we can look forward to.”

Marasigan said they tapped into the talents at the college and were able to create this virtual celebration all in house, with the exception of a contractor to assist in putting all of the efforts together smoothly.
Hands said this all came about with the students at the forefront of thought. They held two forums as soon as the decision came to go remote, to take in ideas from students, and students could ask questions about how future education and celebrations looked through the pandemic.

“This is one of the things that we wanted to do because our president is very student centered,” said Hands. “She wants to make sure that our students are aware and understanding of what’s on the table and any ideas from them that can help us celebrate them, we need to list. In that process the drive through parade, the virtual celebration is what came from that conversation.”

Hands said although they are trying to celebrate students in every fashion they can, they are taking all of state and city COVID-19 precautions for the students and staff’s safety.

“We care about our students and how they want to be acknowledged,” said Hands. “It took a lot of love and a lot of time that went into this, and I think that’s going to show.”