In the last speech before his death in 1993, Cesar Chavez spoke of education as being one of the biggest battles for Latinos. If children were to find success in society, he said, they must be encouraged to complete as much education as possible.
Throughout the years, Merritt College has worked toward this goal by continuously recruiting, supporting, and advocating for its Latinx students to follow through on Chavez’s legacy. The college has had an active Puente Program for more than 30 years and recently achieved HSI status (Hispanic-Serving Institution) with more than 30 percent of Latinx students. That population is also supported by the District-wide PACLA (Peralta Association of Chicanx and Latinx DeAztlan.)
This year, for the first time, the Latinx students will be publicly recognized for their accomplishments and their heritage at the Latinx Graduation Celebration (LGC) on April 27, to be held in the Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale Student Lounge. Hard at work planning to make this event a success is a committee of 29 members, co-chaired by Dr. Lilia Chavez, Maria Suarez Rodriguez, Dr. Mario Rivas, Rosa S. Perez, Dr. Marty Zielke, Jennifer Briffa, Isela Santana, Jose Salceda, and Dr. Rick Ramos, and including Dean Jason Holloway and Dean Syed Hussain.
“For many years we wanted to have a Latinx graduation, but we didn’t have the appropriate support,” says Jennifer Briffa, Child Development instructor. “Now with the increase in Latinx faculty and students, we have support from faculty, staff, and administrators, and students from ASMC, Puente and First-Year Experience.”
The event is designed to portray the accomplishments of Latinx students to their proud families, friends and community members. Along with the ceremony honoring each student, there will be a spiritual blessing, guest speakers, music, short speeches by student honorees, awards and recognitions to supporters, and light refreshments. Each graduate will be presented with a specially designed stole marking the memorable occasion.
The committee considers the event to be more than just a graduation, but a way to also rejoice in the achievements of Merritt’s students as they move out into the world and represent their heritage in their successful new ventures.
“This milestone event is intended not only to celebrate students’ achievements,” says Mario, “but also to reaffirm our commitment to uplifting the Latinx community by helping students access college opportunities so they can move on to higher paying careers and positions of leadership in our society.”
Photo: Planning for the first-ever LatinX Graduation Celebration are some of the nearly 30 committee members: (left to right) Rosa Perez, Jennifer Briffa, Rick Ramos, Maria Suarez Rodriguez, and Mario Rivas.