On Tuesday night, First Lady Jill Biden posed a question to recent graduates from Los Angeles City College: Where are you from?
“What we really mean is, what’s your story? Tell me about the journey that has brought you to this moment,” Biden said, addressing students from Classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022 in a keynote address at the Greek Theater.
Biden, dressed in doctoral regalia, spoke for about 15 minutes at the commencement ceremony for LA City College students and alumni.
In many ways, the students who make up the college’s population are non-traditional; They are often older, working class and parents. A graduate picked up her diploma carrying her child in one arm and lifting her diploma holder over her head in the other.
The college has traditionally graduated students from underserved and underrepresented backgrounds; A school official acknowledged that one in five students has unsafe housing, relies on college food supplies, has multiple jobs, and is older and younger than the average college student. On Tuesday, the oldest graduate was 69 and the youngest 16.
“For the rest of your life, people will ask you to define yourself … but your story is so much more than a place where you grew up or your degree,” Biden said. “These things don’t define you and neither does your hometown. But it’s part of your story. So my message to you today is: never forget where you come from.”
In her speech, Biden highlighted the stories of the graduates before her. She spoke of a student who had emigrated from the Ivory Coast and was pregnant with her third child and taking her final exams in labor. Another student who, after 25 years as a graphic designer, enrolled at LA City College to pursue a teaching career.
As First Lady, Biden has continued to teach English and writing at Northern Virginia Community College and has lobbied for federal funds to provide free tuition to community college students. The latest push found no support in Congress.
LA City College President Mary Gallagher acknowledged the special occasion of Biden’s presence.
“Of all the colleges our first lady could have chosen to start, she chose us,” Gallagher said.
Community colleges, including LA City College, are often a starting point for many students pursuing higher education. As of 2018, 46% of students expressed interest in transferring to a four-year university. More than half of the students enrolled in 2018 — 54% — were Latino. 13% were White, 11% Asian and 6% Black.
LA Community College Student Council President Stefanie Stone described her own circuitous journey.
“Five years ago I was a drunk, a college dropout with literally zero future plans to speak of,” Stone said in a speech to her classmates.
She decided to get sober on June 30, 2019, and when she lost her job due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she enrolled in LA City College on a whim. Her experience, she said, was very different from her first bachelor’s degree, and she found a support system that ultimately paved the way to her educational future — one that she will continue at UC Berkeley.
Valedictorian Voleak Sip, who will attend UCLA, spoke of the uncertainty of attending college during the pandemic, a time when students have been collectively transferred to “Zoom University.”
“With the pandemic, we have been thrown in at the deep end of all sorts of uncertainties. But we recalibrated … We were sitting through our lectures in our kitchens, living rooms, or in the Starbucks parking lot when our internet went down,” Sip said. “If there’s one common term for all of us here today, it would be tenacity.”
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-06-07/jill-biden-college-commencement-speech Jill Biden to L.A. college grads: ‘Never forget where you came from’