Allan Hancock College students of all ages, sizes and majors took the first steps of the rest of their lives Friday afternoon as hundreds received their diplomas during the college’s 92nd graduation commencement ceremonies.
Where their feet would land next was the topic contemplated by several speakers addressing a portion of the college’s 749 graduates, who donned black caps and gowns for the occasion.
Underscoring the importance of the event, nearly 2,000 family and friends crowded onto the Santa Maria campus Commons for the blustery 2 p.m. festivities armed with balloons, flowers, applause and smart phones for spirited picture-taking.
“The effort you have put into reaching this day proves that you have what it takes to be successful in whatever you do,” interim President Betty Miller said. “You are the captains of your futures.”
Before helping hand out diplomas, Miller took a moment to inform the audience of the diverse group of student achievers.
This year’s graduates earned 1,016 associate in arts or associate in science degrees, with 71 majors, she said. The average graduate age was 27, with the youngest clocking in at 18 and the oldest at 75.
Miller then shared her own story of going through community college as the first in her family to do so, and the surreal feeling of now leading a similar institution.
Associated Student Body Government President Camerron Barlow commended graduates on their ability to overcome myriad obstacles and to “press on” — a running theme of his speech.
“You were tired, but you pressed on,” Barlow said. “You were stressed, but you pressed on.
“You’re here,” he continued, a wide grin crossing his face, accompanied by applause. “You’re here on your graduation day. You made it.”
Wherever the students choose to go next, they will all carry a piece of Hancock’s tradition of thinking and learning, said Jim Read, a longtime English professor and keynote speaker.
“You have an honored place in this tradition,” Read said. “Know yourselves. Never stop learning. Be curious. You carry our intellectual DNA with you now.”
After Read’s encouragement to always reach for the next unfamiliar challenge, students marched one-by-one up to the stage to the sound of applause.
Some walked with a young son or daughter at their side, some with their arms raised up in triumph, but all with a sense of relief and knowing smiles.