Years of hard work came to a close on Saturday for the graduating class of 2011.
With 1,050 students and thousands of guests in attendance, it was the largest commencement ceremony ever in Valencia’s 44-year history.
The event was also historical for another reason: this year’s commencement marked the final one for Valencia “Community” College; come July, the college will change its name to Valencia College.
“This is bittersweet for us,” said Valencia President Sanford Shugart.
Packed into the Silver Spurs Arena, the graduates listened to commendations from the chair of Valencia’s District Board of Trustees, Raymer Maguire III, and from representatives of the college’s leadership and alumni.
Rob Stio, an Honors graduate who plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in international affairs, received a $5,000 Hites Foundation Scholarship as well as a transfer scholarship to Rollins College Hamilton Holt School.
The prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which provides up to $30,000 per year, was awarded to the distinguished graduate, Steven Crist.
In his commencement address, Crist saluted the support he received from friends and from the director of the Honors program, Valerie Burks, while also challenging the institution to give students more of a voice in administrative decision-making.
“Valencia has successfully positioned itself as a viable and valuable alternative to attending a four-year college for the freshman and sophomore years,” Crist said.
“As a result, you have many bright, young minds walking your halls every day, with a wealth of knowledge, and even criticisms to contribute to your institution,” he said. He went on to encourage college leaders to “give those students a voice…even if it makes you uncomfortable.”
When at last, an hour into the ceremony, the president took the podium and said, “Will the candidates for degrees please stand?”, the students sat motionless for a moment until Shugart added, “That would be you,” eliciting laughs from the crowd.
The new college grads exited the arena to sunny skies and a Lynx bus parked nearby that had been imprinted with their names as well as the names of 7,200 others who graduated from Valencia throughout the 2010-2011 academic year.
The bus which read, “The 2011 Valencia Grads are Going Places. Congrats!”, was quickly surrounded by students and their families as they searched for and pointed out their graduate’s name and posed for photos.
“We are going places, so that’s kind of cool,” said Stio.