Multicultural graduation honors students from diverse backgrounds

A group of 21 students participated in the first Diversity and Equity Center (DEC) Graduation Reception. All but two students spoke when being recognized on stage.

DEC Advisor Eileen Yoshina acknowledged the help given to students by the families, friends, and teachers throughout the course of their education.

SPSCC Alumna Stella Haioulani gave students her take on the significance of the multicultural graduation as the keynote speaker.

“I want to give thanks to the ancestors whose backs we stand on,” said Haioulani as part of the opening of her speech, “Who paved the way to freedom and equality through storytelling, song, cooking, dance, protest, coalition building, prayer, faith, and their blood, sweat and tears.”

Haioulani holds a bachelor of arts in urban development from The Evergreen State College Tacoma Campus. She began taking classes at SPSCC 20 years ago, entering with a GED at 16 years old. Haioulani was pregnant at the time.

“You believed that I had an equal right to an education despite the fact that I was labeled as a ‘youth at risk,’” said Haioulani when speaking about SPSCC and the school community.

“[My mother] was my biggest fan and coach,” said Haioulani. “She was no-nonsense, yet loving and rewarding.”

Graduate Adban Garay spoke about his experience in four community colleges over the past 10 years.

“In Los Angeles, if you’re different, if you look different, you are different,” said Garay. “In L.A., I spoke Spanish, and people would say, ‘Hey look at that guy speaking Spanish.’ In Olympia, I spoke Spanish, and they were like, ‘Wow, that guy is bilingual.’”

Several graduates also spoke of family support while at SPSCC.

Outgoing Student Senator for Diversity and Equity Amanda Frank read a letter from Rhonda Coats. Coats helped found the DEC.

“When I came to the college for the first time in 1986, everyone knew me as ‘the black woman they hired in financial aid,’” wrote Coats.

Coats’ focus centers on keeping the Office of Diversity and Equity running by aiding with staffing, funding and support, said Yoshina.

Students who were part of the Diversity Leadership Institute were recognized first.

According to professor and graduation chairperson Jose Gutierrez, these students were recognized for their “tremendous commitment” to their education and “the education of our community and larger society.”

Rebekah Hutson participated in the graduation but will be returning to SPSCC next fall. She will begin serving as the Senator for Diversity and Equity Affairs as part of the student senate.

“Without the support from DEC, I honestly do not believe I would have graduated, let alone still be in school,” said Hutson.