CSU Channel Islands’ (CSUCI) Class of 2021 will get a chance to cross a stage in a hybrid commencement ceremony that will include caps, gowns and cars. The Class of 2020 will get the same chance during one of six ceremonies spread over three days on May 21, 22 and 23.

To continue to abide by Ventura County Public Health requirements to keep students and their families safe and required physical distancing, each graduate will drive with family and friends in one car to one of multiple stages set up in parking areas around campus.

Just as they would at an in-person ceremony, they will be welcomed by Provost Mitch Avila, and hear a congratulatory message from Richard Yao, interim president.

Graduating students will also receive a message from Greg Wood, Academic Senate chair and professor of physics; and hear from CSUCI’s recipient of this year’s honorary doctorate, Raudel Bañuelos, retired director of Facility Support, as well as this year’s Student Government president Sophie Nguyễn.

After the presentations, each graduating student’s name will be read onstage, and one car at a time will be directed to a drive-through station where the graduates will pick up their diploma covers.

“Graduates will have an opportunity for a cross-the-stage moment to have their photos taken, then they will hop back in their car,” said Alissa Blough, director of university events and special programs.

Yao said the ceremony may be somewhat unconventional, which makes him especially proud of the students who persisted toward their academic goals despite the challenges of the pandemic.

“We could not be prouder of the graduating classes of 2020 and 2021, who persevered through more than a year of unprecedented personal, economic, family and academic challenges to arrive at this day,” Yao said.

“Rarely do we see the kind of resilience we saw with these graduation candidates, and I am deeply honored my first commencement address as interim president will be for this outstanding group. Congratulations to you all,” he said.

A familiar face on campus for decades, this year’s honorary doctoral recipient was working on the grounds of what is now CSUCI more than 20 years before the university was founded. And his Chumash ancestors were part of the land for thousands of years before that.

“I feel so honored to be able to contribute for 40 years, not just in my facilities role, but also culturally,” Bañuelos said. “There used to be a small village site at the bottom of Round Mountain, or Sat’wiwa. I feel honored to represent myself, my elders and our ancestors, and to share our history of this land and to be part of what this land has become today.”

Bañuelos worked for Camarillo State Hospital beginning in the 1980s, then was asked to work for CSUCI after the hospital property was transferred in 1997 from the state to the CSU for the purpose of establishing CSUCI.

When Yao announced Bañuelos as the recipient of the honorary doctorate, he expressed his appreciation for Bañuelos’ contributions to the campus — such as performing a traditional Chumash blessing ceremony before each commencement and other important campus events — but also for Bañuelos’ calm and healing presence for the students, staff and faculty during difficult times.

“I had the honor of co-leading many of our campus healing circles with Raudel,” Yao said. “While these were extremely challenging circumstances, to say the least, working with him throughout this process remains one of the most impactful and meaningful experiences I have had throughout my time at CSUCI.”
The ceremony at 9 a.m. May 21 is reserved for the Class of 2020. The last of the commencement events, at 3 p.m. May 23, is reserved for master’s and credential graduates. Undergraduates of any major may choose among the other five ceremonies, scheduled for 3 p.m. May 21; 9 a.m. or 3 p.m May 22; or 9 a.m. or 3 p.m. May 23.

Blough said this arrangement was in response to what students said they wanted.

“We asked student representatives that serve on the commencement committee to poll their peers and the feedback we received along with numerous emails from students was that they want to cross the stage and celebrate with family and friends,” Blough said.

“We knew logistics were going to be tough, but we had to figure it out and make that happen for our graduates,” she said.
Per local public health regulations, additional rules will need to be followed such as no large trucks or passenger vans, and one car per graduate as health and safety remain CSUCI’s first priority. Commencement plans are subject to change depending on local, state and federal health regulations. 
Nguyễn will speak in person at the 3 p.m. Saturday commencement and via a video recording for the other ceremonies, and her message is clear.
“I want to remind my fellow graduates to be bold, be fierce, and speak up,” Nguyễn said. “When you see a social injustice, silence is not an option. I’m quoting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez when I say, ‘When we make hope kinetic, the good will win.’ We are that hope.”

For more information about CSUCI’s commencement, visit https://www.csuci.edu/commencement/index.htm.