Community College of Aurora students gathered for a joint ceremony for 2020 and 2021 graduates on Saturday, May 8, 2020. Photo provided by Tim Meyer, CCA
AURORA | Kasahun Adnew has fond memories of his time as a student at the Community College of Aurora. His graduation in spring 2020 is not one of them.
Adnew came to Colorado from Ethiopia in 2015. His family back home saw all of his successes and failures in the US through social media and hoped his graduation would show how far he had come. However, with the arrival of COVID-19, the in-person graduation was canceled. In the end, he took a photo in his aunt’s old graduation cap and dress and a shirt that she bought for him from Amazon that said: “Graduate 2020”.
Adnew finally got off the stage this Saturday as CCA held its start for 2020 and 2021 graduates outdoors on its Lowry campus. Adnew was the student representative.
In his speech, he talked about his early days in the United States at Denver International Airport and how he balanced work and school and usually only got a few hours of sleep a night. It is all worth getting an education, he said.
“Education is a lifelong good and no one can take it away from you,” he said.
It was an emotional ceremony for the 210 graduates who sat outside on the quad while their families watched from a livestream or farther back in the CCA parking lot, honking and cheering as the graduates crossed the stage.
Sydney Pedregon, assistant director of student life at CCA, said the college began making plans for the ceremony in January. They weren’t sure what the COVID situation would be like in May, but they didn’t want to miss a ceremony two years in a row.
“We wanted to be able to do something for the graduates,” she said, even if it wasn’t the college’s usual ceremony in the University of Denver auditorium.
Because of the pandemic, students took the vast majority of courses online this year, an added challenge on top of the other life situations in which community college students – who are disproportionately often parents, work full-time, or work full-time than traditional first generation students – juggle already.
“It was a challenge, but we did it,” said Tetiana Doru, who holds an INP (Integrated Nursing Pathway) degree and will move to CU Anschutz to complete her degree in nursing.
The entire graduation cohort of INP students sat in a row at the beginning, and student Axel Chavez said the year of online classes would not have been possible without the mutual support of the students.
“It was an experience like no other,” said Chavez.
Training to be a nurse in a minor pandemic was a little daunting, he said, but ultimately it made him even more confident about how important the field was and how much he was committed to the community.
Chavez came to the United States from Mexico with his family when he was only six months old and is the first in his family to attend college.
“I think you can say I’m living a bit of the American Dream,” he said.
“It was a great achievement for me,” said Georgina Villalta. “I’m about to cry.”
Villata, who had an early childhood education degree, moved to the United States from El Salvador. She married when she was 19 and has two daughters. She said she was the first person in her family to go to college. Therefore, the degree is particularly important to them.
The ceremony was also held for CCA President Betsy Oudenhoven, who will be retiring in July after 10 years in college and over 40 years in higher education.
She said she was glad to have another start after missing out on it last year and praised the students for all of their hard work.
“It’s an amazing achievement, especially after last year,” she said. “Community college students work so hard for this.”