LTCC Celebrates 48th Graduation Highlighted by Groundbreaking Firsts
July 5, 2023
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, CA—The 48th Lake Tahoe Community College (LTCC) graduation ceremony was held Friday evening, June 30, on LTCC’s synthetic turf soccer pitch. This year’s Commencement featured a number of barrier-breaking firsts, with California Community Colleges’ first Latina chancellor serving as keynote speaker, LTCC’s first in-person commencement attendance by its Rising Scholars Program (RSP) graduates, and the first graduates from the college’s Forestry program sharing the evening together with hundreds of guests.
Approximately 226 students graduated with their Associate of Arts degrees from LTCC this year. Another 47 students earned their Foundational Skills Certificates and Certificates of Achievement, and 15 cadets graduated from the Lake Tahoe Basin Fire Academy at LTCC.
Among the grads in attendance were seven from LTCC’s Rising Scholars program, which educates and supports both current and former justice-involved students. While the program has brought dozens of LTCC employees into multiple detention locations for graduation ceremonies for years, this was the first time RSP students attended LTCC’s South Shore ceremony in person.
“A special thank you to the staff, faculty and administration, as well as our partners at the El Dorado County Probation Office, who have supported the success of students impacted by the criminal justice system,” said LTCC Superintendent/President Jeff DeFranco in his opening remarks. “We are very proud to have a record number of Rising Scholar Program students here with us tonight. They represent 40 RSP graduates who earned their associate degrees this year—that’s a record as well.”
One of the Rising Scholars in attendance Friday was the first Tahoe Basin-based detained youth able to join in graduation festivities, thanks to support from the South Lake Tahoe Juvenile Treatment Center, the El Dorado County Department of Probation, and Juvenile Superior Court. They collaborated with LTCC to allow this student to be released just for the occasion, where a large group of his loved ones were on hand to celebrate.
LTCC’s Forestry program also saw its first graduates cross the stage. The program launched in Fall 2022, but Erik Vasquez and Nicholas Raizman were able to complete their AS degrees in Forestry in just one year thanks to meeting all of their general education requirements beforehand. In addition to their AS degrees, both also earned Forestry certificates.
This year’s Keynote speaker, Deputy Chancellor of the California Community Colleges system Dr. Daisy Gonzales, represents a major first herself. She is the first Latina and only the second woman to serve as chancellor of the 116-college CCC system, the largest public higher education system in the United States and the second largest in the world. The former foster youth, who was born into an immigrant family in southern California, spoke about recognizing one’s own inner potential, and connecting personal dreams with others who can together achieve paradigm-shifting goals.
“Your hard work and bright future have the potential to transform this planet,” she told LTCC’s graduates. “You are powerful! You are more than enough, and your dreams are possible. LTCC graduates, I believe in you. WE believe in you. Figure out your why, and dream so big that you have to ask for help.”
Describing the history-making winter of 2022/23 that LTCC’s graduates dealt with, LTCC President DeFranco pointed to the continuing resiliency of the Class of 2023, made up of many students who also navigated through a global pandemic and wildfire evacuation before being tested yet again by forces from outside the classroom.
“Storm after storm, 700 plus inches of snow, power outages – a blizzard of challenges,” President DeFranco said. “But you did it. You were resilient. You did not collapse. You weathered the storms and you have arrived now at this moment of genuine achievement.”
Two-term LTCC Board Student Trustee Geego Ocampo tackled the turning of the tassels portion of the ceremony, also serving as the first of two student speakers.
“I chose LTCC because it caused me to look in the mirror and see a successful person,” said Ocampo. “Someone who will become a medical assistant, or an emergency medical technician. Someone who will earn an AA degree. Someone who will take chances to explore outside his world.”
Fellow student Kiana Corea shared her personal story of triumph over struggle and how education that started as a diversion from her life’s harder realities became something much bigger.
“Achieving started as a distraction that has transformed into something I take pride in. Experiencing adversity like housing instability, constantly being financially unstable, and being raised by a single parent. We all have different upbringings, different bumps, mountains even, on our individual roads to success. Each and every one of you have overcome your own unthinkable, your own adversities. That in and of itself deserves recognition.”
Retiring Business and Accounting instructor Dr. Jon Kingsbury spoke on behalf of LTCC’s faculty, describing how a season of change was coming for both the graduates and himself, as they head toward their futures while he reflects on what his next chapter might reveal after 19 years of teaching at LTCC.
“Both of us are unsure about the adventures and challenges that await us, so we might be a bit nervous as we move on from LTCC,” said Dr. Kingsbury. “You have received an exceptional education, one that gives you the skills to meet any challenges you face. I’m talking about your self-confidence in those skills you have acquired, the experiences you’ve had that are now part of who you are. It’s part of your DNA now. It’s who you are. Don’t lose sight of that.”
Fellow faculty member Dr. Wynn Walker was also called to the stage, becoming emotional at discovering that she had been chosen by students to receive their annual Student Choice Award for the second year in a row.
“I can’t even express it in words how much it means to me and what a great honor it is for me to see each and every one of you here,” said Dr. Walker. “I know you are all going to do such wonderful things. I’ve seen what you’ve gone through, and I have seen your success, and it humbles me.”
Following the 2023 graduation ceremony, LTCC’s Foundation hosted a celebration for faculty where two more awards, this time selected by faculty, were handed out. The Distinguished Faculty Award was given to Sociology instructor Dr. Amber Tierney. The Distinguished Adjunct Faculty Award, chosen by faculty to honor a part-time instructor, went to Archaeology instructor Melinda Button.
Approximately 22 of LTCC’s AA degree earners are from the college’s Lake Tahoe College Promise program, which gives eligible first-time, full-time college students up to three years of free tuition, along with a host of other support services and free textbooks, technology, mentoring and tutoring, personalized counseling, and more.
Of the 226 degrees awarded this year at LTCC, 141 were transfer degrees. Students who earn these are guaranteed a seat at a California State University campus in the major of their choice. LTCC also recognized one UMass Global student who earned their Master of Arts in Teaching degree, along with a teaching credential. LTCC offers advanced degrees and credentialing in several subjects through its partnerships with both UMass Global and Washington State University Global Campus, with classes available on campus at LTCC’s Lisa Maloff University Center.